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Thomas Brinkmann - When Horses Die...

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Artist: Thomas Brinkmann

Album: When Horses Die...

Label: max.Ernst

Review date: Mar. 12, 2008

Forced Exposure finds it necessary to advise the consumer that there is “NO techno” on Thomas Brinkmann’s newest album, When Horses Die…, an act of good faith likely intended for minimalism fans who might find the German producer’s current penchant for singing a bit off-putting. But I get the impression that followers of Brinkmann’s work are less likely to find fault with his vocals than the two beatless, atmospheric tracks that open the album. If Brinkmann succeeds where many other ambitious producers have failed unspectacularly – and after many listens, it remains unclear whether his vocals are wallpaper or a force in their own right – it has everything to do with the kind of music he’s made, not sung. The influences Brinkmann supplies seem right (Suicide’s cavernous paranoia, Nine Inch Nails’ producerly, less aggressive songs), but the net effect is similar to Musick to Play in The Dark-era Coil.

Although it’s the most subdued track, “Spiral” is the album’s zero degree, a baseline that allows the listener to appreciate and understand Brinkmann’s stylistic choices elsewhere. Undoubtedly aware of the severe limitations of his singing voice, Brinkmann opts for a shuffling, somnolent delivery, too Teutonic to sound anything like John Balance’s sensuous, pagan intonations. It’s also not sharp enough to contribute measurably to a song’s rhythmic structure, and only fully comprehensible on rare occasions. On the album’s most richly detailed production, “Souls,” Brinkmann’s voice sloshes around on top of an Arthur Russell-derived beat, giving the song emphases in disorienting places, yet remaining insubstantial enough to avoid redirecting its remarkably straightforward drive.

If Brinkmann can be accused of hedging his vocal performances here, he’s also moving determinedly into remarkably new territory. Where his most notable projects up to the present have taken place in the unclaimed zone between recorded music and the act of making it, When Horses Die… is cut from whole cloth.

And this is likely the most unusual direction Brinkmann could take at this point in his career. Klick Revolution’s studies in micro-rhythms derived from mutilated records, like Brinkmann’s proclivity towards remixing recordings using a turntables modified to have three tone arms, poke at the relationship between content and form by apparently subtracting the former. The fact that this never fully happens – some of the Klick Revolution tracks are nearly functional despite their Spartan veneer – is something Brinkmann understands thoroughly. This is one explanation for why When Horses Die… is so satisfying. Although I appreciate the obvious effort expended on choosing the right content – the title track’s an adaptation of a poem by Russian futurist Velimir Khlebnikov, while Tuxedomoon’s Winston Tong supplies “Words” – this knowledge is something to be saved for later, when you want to get deeper into the album’s meaning or convince friends to get on board. The real point of When Horses Die… is the freshness of its productions. Increasing the volume of “2suns,” another of the album’s more outgoing tracks (and the closest thing the album has to a bona fide banger) doesn’t make the track seem more detailed, it just makes it bigger and less evadable.

Brinkmann has made the most traditionally compelling album of his career with When Horses Die…, but he’s done so by creating music that withdraws from visibility at the same time that it invites its listeners to take part in picking out its influences.

By Brandon Bussolini

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