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Ulrich Schnauss - Far Away Trains Passing By

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Artist: Ulrich Schnauss

Album: Far Away Trains Passing By

Label: City Centre Offices

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

Part of pop music’s appeal is the familiarity it bestows after just one listen. Heard twice and you can almost sing along. The third time, as they say, is a charm and suddenly the song has become an assumed, accepted element of your everyday existence; just another understood adornment, like taking a right on red or savoring the first taste of coffee in the morn after an extra-inning evening. Although routine and somewhat ordinary, a certain pleasure is derived from knowing future events before they occur. While the brain is actually recalling past experiences, routine allows memory to dictate the yet to come.

The loop works in an almost identical fashion, but on a more elemental level. No matter the length, the loop automates the listening experience, providing a beacon of dependability in an unpredictable world. When one combines the appeal of pop with the rhythmic loyalty of the loop, the results can be euphoric—or boring, depending on the point of view taken.

On his debut album Far Away Trains Passing By, Ulrich Schnauss displays a collection of loop-dependent pop, assembled to tug at your heartstrings through U2-esque chord progressions and an assortment of lockgroove drumbeats. The effect is unlike any electronic record released in 2001. Schnauss’s pop sensibility could draw comparisons to Mum’s simpler songs, music box melodies that sooth rather than startle.

In fact, Mum’s Yesterday was Dramatic, Today is O.K. would have been a perfect title for Schnauss’s debut. Far Away Trains Passing By most stunning accomplishment is the artificial insemination of nostalgia. “…Passing By,” one of the most beautifully sappy songs in IDM’s relatively brief history, loops lush symphonic chords, contrasting bass notes with twinkling fairydust grooves, (all quite similar to U2’s “With or Without You,”) while selectively adding and subtracting various drum and piano loops throughout the piece. It’s all extremely formulaic, like a jigsaw puzzle that, when finally assembled, reveals a portrait of your first kiss. And not just any first kiss. We’re talking Princess Bride territory here.

Yet, the kiss never really happened. Schnauss has obviously studied the art of generating pop songs and his loops possess the pristine aim of Bilbo Baggins; expose a smidget of sentimentality and he’ll nail you through the heart. The first track, “Knuddelmaus” loops overlaying piano and synth riffs, before bringing in a standard Casio breakbeat and simulated Sundays-esque guitar strums. While shamelessly exploitive, this packaging of loops when appropriately layered does exceed its individual parts to create images of endless summers and NutraSweet heartbreak.

In a sense, Schanuss’s monster achieves an interesting phenomenon: Far Away Trains Passing By’s pop-loops hook the listener by subverting the unknown, establishing steadfast guidelines for the everpresent five minutes of madness, while sublimating the subconscious use of memory with seemingly tangible visions of past experience. While the album does not consistently attain this magical appeal over its final three tracks, Schnauss’s fleeting moments of human emotion transcend the source’s code of ones and zeroes.

By Otis Hart

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