Release Date: Feb 25, 2014
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic
After a six-year break from producing new material, The Notwist are back, with Close To The Glass. The Germans gained some serious acclaim upon the release of 2002’s Neon Golden, a landmark of electronic post-rock, but other than a lukewarm 2008 release, a comparatively obscure collaboration album, and a forgettable film soundtrack, The Notwist almost completely faded into the obfuscated shadows from which they initially appeared. And so, as the group reaches the quarter-century mark and off-kilter electronic music is firmly established as a musical hegemon, it might be good to ask: is electronic post-rock really relevant anymore? And with that, is The Notwist relevant, too? Ever since abandoning their post-hardcore roots for a mold of Aphex Twin/Autechre-inspired glitchiness and Bark Psychosis post-rock, The Notwist released quirky pop songs that steadily grew more experimental with each release.
This is a not just a moment. Not simply a journey from A to B. Not something to take apart. It’s an entity, of its own. While there are a multitude of sections, each shifting from piece to piece, this is an inseparable piece of work. One that you need to take a step back from to see. Over two ….
The Notwist have been around for long enough and have such a solid discography that it's easy to take them for granted. It's almost as if their consistency works against them getting the credit due for helping to create the electronics-meets-indie rock template followed by so many later bands. However, that shouldn't be a problem with Close to the Glass; the band's first album since 2008's The Devil, You + Me is some of their most accessible and attention-getting music yet.
The Notwist are 25 years old. That in itself is cause for celebration, but coupled with a new album and a tour with soulmate and alt-hip-hop legend Jel, well... crack out the party poppers. In a career which has seen them swing from heavy, almost stoner rock to downbeat indie, and onwards to their more recent reinvention as experimental electronica, their latest transformation is perhaps not their most surprising, but still offers spadefulls of brain, body and soul food.
The Notwist have been through almost as many musical incarnations as Krishna has had earthly avatars. Through it all, Markus Acher's universally unflappable voice has served as the only indicator that the band railing against the system in 1989 is the same as the group gazing at its own navel in 2002. Acher's voice is one of reason and reassurance. It's the one that you hear over the sound of shattering glass and falling bits of plaster intoning: "This is an earthquake.
As far as songs go, “Close to the Glass” and “Kong” make for a bizarre set of twins. Instrumentally, these tracks could be the work of two entirely different bands. “Glass” is moody and inscrutable, blasted through with dissonant percussion and ghostly voices that spout clipped phrases over the top of one another. Then there’s “Kong,” a slice warm and breezy indie rock that’s chug-chug-chugging along like a lost relic from 120 Minutes.
For over two decades, the Notwist have demonstrated their German pop efficiency or, say, "Kraftwerk" unerringly writing songs with earworm quality hooks and melodies. On their first album in six years (not counting a release with the collaborative side project, 13 and God, that they share with hip hop weirdoes Themselves), the only notable shift in balance is a slight tipping of the scale towards the weight of electronic over acoustic instrumentation.But even in their computer world, they make playful use of arpeggio and digital handclaps rather than succumb to a colder square-cut sound. The other band signature that remains is Markus Acher's ESL-quality turn of phrase that, nonetheless, draws you deeper into the song.
The career trajectory of German polymaths The Notwist has always been one of steady evolution and mutation. We've long waved auf wiedersehen to the early '90s punk stylings of The Notwist and Nook, and now it seems the sentimental bedroom electronica of Shrink and Neon Golden is headed the same way. Close to the Glass is at once the most diverse and the most alive record the band have put out in some time.
The Notwist do a good job of shrinking into the shadows, making it feel like they could stop doing all this and drift away without any kind of announcement or farewell note. On hooking up with Sub Pop for their first full-length album since The Devil, You + Me in 2008, the label made such a big deal that it felt positively un-Notwistian. This is a band that operates without fanfare, favoring the periphery over the spotlight.
There’s nothing controversial in the idea that a favored topic of art is how social systems capture people and slot them onto constrictive rails, prescribing their behavior and limiting their lives before they’ve already begun. Yet is it possible that this thematic line sometimes operates as an implicit apology for the derived, predetermined nature of the works that incorporate it? In the case of Close to the Glass, the answer is both a yes and a no, since The Notwist’s eighth album is a site of conflict between subtle progression and unsubtle imitation, as well as a site of recognizably computerized indie that doesn’t simply limit its focus to the everyday manipulations and restrictions of mass society. But while it offers just enough in the way of individuality to stave off a disappearance within the impersonal grid of the received and the conventional, it still can’t quite fuse this into a coherent personality that transcends its inhibiting foundations.
It’s been a strange road for the Notwist. The German quartet has been around since the late ‘80s and as the decades have gone by they’ve rapidly changed sounds. Listen to “Agenda” from their self-titled debut then turn to their 2009 scoring work Sturm. The change from grungy punk to ambient electronic is startling.
Absences can be good, nice even. The Notwist’s ‘Close to the Glass’ has arrived at precisely the right moment - just when we’re all about ready for more misery soaked bleeps and bloops. The cards in which The Notwist deal are once again frighteningly fresh; but when they’ve been gone just shy of six years, the German four-piece can’t just give us what we’ve already heard and they’re astutely aware of this.
Released in 2002 and now remembered by a dwindling subset of graybeards as a classic, The Notwist’s Neon Golden served as an urtext for the kind of emotional, pensive electronica-with-an-indie-heart that would be codified by The Postal Service just a year later. More than a historical landmark, Neon Golden is a still-fresh blend of electronic snaps and beeps mixed with plucked strings and disaffected vocals, all set at a molasses pace. The Notwist’s eighth record and Sub Pop debut, Close to the Glass, finds the band returning to territory reminiscent of Neon Golden.
The Notwist’s new record sounds very much like the German quartet’s previous work—beats glitch, guitars strum, lyrical desperation chills. “We want to be you,” Markus Acher sings shakily on “Signals,” the album’s opener. When he then sings “We want to light your screen,” the primary theme of Close To The Glass sinks in: The Notwist is anxiously reaching out through the morass of modern technology, one listening device at a time.The album’s title track, with its spooky Kid A aural landscapes, slumps in next, but the record isn’t as bleak as it seems.
You’re welcomed into the world of Close To The Glass with an ominous, percolating synth line. Slowly, some additional beeps and taps arrive off-time, swell up, then fade away. When a voice finally presents itself to you, it’s ambiguous: “We wanna be you/We wanna be like you,” sings Markus Acher delicately. And just when the telltale anticipation of a beat about to drop rises, the synths scramble into rhythmic chaos.
“I say what I feel,” the French-born Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux declares, in Spanish, on her third album, “Vengo” (“I Come”) (Nacional). But she’s not particularly concerned with herself. She’s got bigger things on her mind, like freedom, feminism, the next generation, the environment, justice, class conflicts, the aftereffects of colonialism and the right to make creative mistakes: to be an “errorista.” In a way, Ms.
opinion byBRENDAN FRANK It’s one thing to be first. It’s something else entirely to build a successful archetype if you’re not first. Twelve years ago, the Notwist released Neon Golden, a precocious, foretelling entry into what was largely untested territory between synthesizers and indie rock. The chameleonic German band’s particularly lugubrious marriage of those genres wasn’t just a masterpiece, it left the door wide open for others to repeat.