Einsturzende Neubauten - "Ich Komme Davon" (The Jewels)
If music were baseball, the departure of Blixa Bargeld from the Bad Seeds to focus exlusively on Einstürzende Neubauten would be considered one of the greatest front office moves of all time, one of those that leaves both squads better. Since Bargeld left in 2004, both his and Nick Cave’s band have put out some of the best music of their long careers. It freed Cave to tap into his rocker roots; the difference between Abbatoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus and Nocturama is so drastic that the only link is Cave’s voice - and allowed Bargeld to focus his efforts solely on Neubauten and its vision of what music should be.
And that vision happens to include reshaping the way the audience and the artist interact. Their last album, Alles Wieder Offen, was funded by fan subscriptions, and this album actually started its life as bonus material for said subscribers. And while the Neubauten website still makes no reference to this album as a physical unit (only as a digital download), it does document its release, track-by-track, between March 2006 and February 2007. Unlike the songs on Alles, which was deliberately worked on and revised over that same span, those collected in The Jewels were all made quickly, in a day or two at most. And, in the grand tradition of Brian Eno, they built each track around the results of a card game based on neglected ideas from previous albums. Each band member would take a couple cards, grab an instrument or instruments (defined as loosely as possible, in that way only they can) and start playing. The remarkable part is that, when you listen to it, there is no hint of its diverse origins. The album is that coherent.
The material itself is, unsurprisingly, pretty close to that of Alles, just with a little less menace. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nearly impossible for Neubauten to not be menacing or imposing, but the eerie factor seems to be ratcheted down just a tad. There are still plenty of moments of dark ambience, crashing metal and rustling construction supplies, like the horror film clamor of “Mei Ro” and “Die Libellen,” but they are mere elements of songs, balanced out by snatches of melody, almost-calming drones, and a sense of pacing that makes them feel almost natural. Plus they are joined by the lovely melodicism of “Ich Komme Davon,” “Jeder Satz mit Ihr Hallt Nach,” and “Am I Only Jesus?” and the call-and-response of “Magyar Energia,” which at least partially subvert any menace hidden in the background. And “Epharisto” is about as close as Neubauten gets to Tom Waits, with its limping groove, off-kitler guitar and Bargeld’s random vocal interjections. The songs are all relatively short for recent Neubauten material - the average length is just over 2 minutes - so there is little space for the sweeping builds and flowing forms that characterize so much of their output. In a way, this album ends up occupying a space half-way in the early ’80s and half-way in the present. It almost makes for a great summation of what Bargeld and Co. are all about.
What’s really fascinating is that, while Neubauten doesn’t have the immediate rock’n’roll punch of recent Nick Cave, both groups seem to be starting from the same place: noise. As Emerson Dameron says in his review of Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, the latest Nick Cave record is also largely built around “scrapes and rattles,” mostly from Warren Ellis. And while it would be impossible to confuse one group for the other, it’s an interesting parallel, and perhaps speaks to why Cave hired Bargeld in the first place.