Release Date: Feb 12, 2013
Record label: Domino
In the week that has seen fellow German electronica pioneers Kraftwerk play their eight albums across eight nights in the wondrous surroundings of the Tate Modern in London, and a new album from My Bloody Valentine the band that give shoegaze its name, it is highly appropriate that the new Ulrich Schnauss album finally arrives after a six-year wait. Schnauss has lately been busy working in collaboration with other artists, Jonas Monk of Danish electronica band Manual and Mark Peters form Engineers predominately, but he has consistently pushed at the boundaries of electronic music and sought to add elements of the shoegaze aesthetic whether that be into his work, in collaboration with others or as an in demand producer/remixer for others. It is this continual experimentation and refusal to be bound by the strictures of what electronic music should be that has provided Schnauss with such a wide fan base and I’ve been witness to his almost religious like live performances, stood in amongst electronic, indie and hip hop fans all kneeling, well dancing, at the alter of Ulrich.
After a decade flirting with shoegaze and dream pop textures, Ulrich Schnauss has returned to his IDM roots with A Long Way to Fall. On his first album (fourth overall) under his name in six years, the German producer almost fully focuses on the synthesizer, nearly abandoning the layered fuzz and tempered haze of his last two solo releases, while eliminating the slow-burning, buried vocals of his work with Mark Peters and A Shoreline Dream. Stretching each song past the five-minute mark, Schnauss lets his work gestate on A Long Way to Fall, letting simple, sometimes nonexistent refrains repeat and recur until some sort of unshakable melody is revealed.
Keyboard genius-cum-producer, remixer and sound engineer Ulrich Schnauss has been an institution in shoegaze-related circles for the best part of a decade now. Aside from putting out three albums worth of solo material, his most recent contributions to other artists' works include production duties on Exit Calm's self-titled debut, remixing Pet Shop Boys most recent single 'Memory Of The Future', and playing keyboards with Engineers. Indeed, last year's Underrated Silence long player saw Schnauss collaborate with Engineers main songwriter Mark Peters on a record that brought the best of both worlds together in one tranquil melting pot.
Ulrich SchnaussA Long Way To Fall[Scripted Realities / Domino USA; 2013]By Josh Becker; March 5, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGThe notion of "shoegaze electronic music" seems hopelessly arbitrary. If, as Wikipedia puts it, shoegaze is "typified by significant use of guitar effects, and indistinguishable vocal melodies that blend into the creative noise of the guitars," then how can an album that contains neither vocals nor guitars be classified as such? The answer lies in the nomenclature. The genre got its name because "the musicians in these bands stood relatively still during live performances in a detached, introspective, non-confrontational state, hence the idea that they were gazing at their shoes.
Ulrich Schnauss has never been afraid to embrace the new age side of his sound. Even on the albums like 2007's Goodbye, where he went almost full-on shoegaze with plenty of guitars, there was always a softness to the synth textures, and a gentle touch to the melodies, which were soothing, to say the least. On his 2013 album, A Long Way to Fall, Schnauss has fully embraced the new age aesthetic of creating background music perfect to have on while relaxing or getting a foot massage.
If the strongest points on 2003’s A Strangely Isolated Place were also the brightest, Ulrich Schnauss’s 2007 Goodbye worked best when it twisted away from its own predominating light. On A Long Way To Fall, the German producer’s fourth album under his own name, Schnauss embraces shadow play, teasing out moments of darkness and discomfort to accentuate an ultimately optimistic narrative. After two records brimming with effects borrowed from first-wave shoegaze, Schnauss took the opportunity on A Long Way to Fall to create what he describes as “an album that would celebrate the synthesizer as the very capable musical instrument that it is, but without the need to disguise it behind a wall of echo and reverb.
Ulrich Schnauss has never been a risky producer. He has released volumes of material as a solo artist and with Engineers, much of it tied to the ambient pop drift of early 1990s shoegaze. Schnauss deserves some credit for forecasting the heady, frosting-thick synthesizer music of bands like M83, but there's no getting away from the fact that little of his work bears revisiting.
Odd clattering noises, some bubbling lava, the whir of traffic, spiralling electronic loops, even a station announcer in the distance … just some of the sounds greeting the listener on Ulrich Schnauss’s synthesizer fade-in to ‘Borrowed Time’, the opening for his long-awaited solo project A Long Way To Fall. Breathing magic into music is all part of the electronic wizard’s charm, whether as producer, musician, re-mixer, or just all-round studio boffin. His 2010 remix collection Missing Deadlines is a great place to review the last 2 decades of traces he’s left behind in other people’s music, some amazing shoegaze-tronica with the trademark multi-layering of electronic sounds all set against a great wall of reverb and echo.
Ulrich Schnauss converts algorithms into soothing shoegazing electronic utopias. What’s even more worrying is that it sounds like he does this for fun. It glimmers, it shines, it shimmers, it sparkles. And as the adjectives suggest, it’s run-of-the-mill ambient. The trick with ambient is that ….