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The Notwist - Neon Golden

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Artist: The Notwist

Album: Neon Golden

Label: City Slang

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

Just over four years ago, German band the Notwist released their fifth studio album, Shrink to much critical fanfare in the United States, Europe, and most points in between. At the time it seemed that the band was poised for an American indie breakthrough, and rightly so as that record saw the band escaping the post-punk tendencies that ran throughout their earlier releases in favor of a more tightly composed sound incorporating more elements of jazz and electronics in addition to their trademark guitar fuzz. Sadly this was not to be, however. Shortly after the release of this album, Zero Hour, the band’s American label went belly up, deleted the band’s back catalogue, and left the Notwist without much of a way for any new American fans to hear their music. As it stands right now the band still has no real American distribution, which is a shame considering that Neon Golden, their sixth release out recently on City Slang, is not only their best yet, but also easily one of the best releases of the year thus far.

The odds are that you’ve heard some of the members of the Notwist in action recently as the four members have a healthy list of side projects including (but surely not limited to) bands such as Lali Puna, Tied + Tickled Trio, Village of Savoonga, and solo electronic composer Console. In all honesty, the best way to describe the Notwist themselves is as an amalgam of all the different sounds and sensibilites embodied by these side projects. What started out as an oft-ferocious, distortion heavy, punk infused project in 1990 has evolved at this point to a band indebted to more styles of music that you can count on one hand. While on paper a combination of dub, drum ‘n’ bass, IDM, the occasional banjo, jazz, chamber strings, and strong guitar fueled melodies seems like it might result in a tangled morass of sounds and styles, the Notwist pull off this combination without so much as a stutter.

The album starts off with the intricately plucked strings of "One Step Inside Doesn’t Mean You’ll Understand". As the layers of strings build, Martin Archer begins to add his delicate yet somewhat detached vocals to the mix, incorporating a gently strummed guitar and simplistic percussion and horn lines. From there, the record bursts into "Pilot", the first single," a mix of simple guitar, dub bass, and electronic and acoustic percussion that swings like New Order did at their best. All throughout the track Martin Gretschmann (aka Console) adds subtle electronics and synths that push the song ahead and give it a more complex sound. By the third track ("Pick Up The Phone"), the bands starts with with woodwind samples that quickly take on a repetitive guitar line and a broken hip hop beat before the fuzzed out chorus kicks in as well. In a way, these three songs are indicitive of why this album is a such a success. The Notwist aren’t really creating any new sounds or ideas at all with this album, but rather confidently combining different elements and allowing them to work within the confines of excellent pop songs.

There are many other tracks on this disc that equal the tone set by the first three. "This Room" sounds exactly like a live drum ‘n’ bass track at first before the guitar line kicks in, morphing it into a pop song with one of the most driving beats you’ll ever hear. The song breaks down into an almost Matmos-ian pastiche of chopped vocals before incorporating more electro beats as it speeds to its climax. "Solitaire", the track that follows, is even better, balancing a sputtering electronic beat in one channel with warm string tones and vocals in another – reminiscent of Bjork at her most urgent. "One With the Freaks" one ups this track as well, as this is one of the only songs on the record that could conceivably be classified as a straight-ahead rock song. Considering all the sound experimentation that comes before this track, the simple dual guitar attack coupled with a solid rhythm section allows the song to flourish in almost anthemic ways. The record ends with the one-two punch of "Off the Rails" and "Consequence". While the former begins with simple electronic melodies and beats that break suddenly for a full-on string section, the latter builds slowly on another almost hip hop styled beat, adding more gentle guitar and piano as the song builds to its blissful climax.

With Neon Golden, the Notwist have created a daring album full of different sounds and textures. While this might sound like a textbook post-rock album, it is without a doubt a record firmly anchored by its pop sensibilities. The band may have a serious knack for working multiple textures into the framework of a single song, but ultimately it is the glorious melodies and harmonies that will stick in your head for days after hearing this album. Simply put, this is gorgeous stuff. With this record, the band has completed their arc from angry punk trappings to a wistful and delicate pop sensibility that retains its intensity without ever having to go over the top. It’s a shame though that this record shows no signs of receiving a proper release stateside at this point. For now, it seems as though your best bet is to check Other Music for a chance at snagging this one. Even though it’s a somewhat pricey import, it’s worth every penny.

By Michael Crumsho

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