Release Date: Feb 14, 2012
Record label: Bureau B
Genre(s): Electronic, Techno, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Ambient Techno
As a founder member and principal songwriter in ambient shoegaze outfit Engineers, Mark Peters has been responsible for crafting some of that genre's most timeless compositions this past decade. After 2009's highly acclaimed second album Three Fact Fader saw the band's line-up change dramatically, the introduction of esteemed musical impresario cum producer Ulrich Schnauss heralded a further change in Engineers' sound and approach to songwriting. The emphasis now on layers and textures rather than tremelo heavy guitar-based orchestrations, their 2010 follow-up In Praise Of More could almost have been the work of an entirely different band.
Two weeks before the debut full-length between Ulrich Schnauss and Mark Peters hit store shelves, I caught a charter bus to Montreal to attend its listening party. For those of you on the island city wishing you’d known such an event was about to go down, relax. For one thing, it was a relatively secret gathering between an iPod, my friend and I. Besides that, we spent about half of the album preview laughing at the song titles.
Continuing to effortlessly bridge the rather wide gap between the ethereal new age of Enya and the shimmering shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine, the title of German producer Ulrich Schnauss' second consecutive collaborative album, Underrated Silence, says it all. Written and recorded with Engineers' bassist Mark Peters, its 11 atmospheric tracks pursue a far more minimal electronica approach than 2011's guitar-heavy joint effort with Danish musician Jonas Munk, which means that it takes some time to distinguish between the constant array of soothing synths and subtle, floaty beats on offer. Indeed, Schnauss has always been more interested in the after-party than the party itself, but there are times when the album borders on the comatose, particularly on the disorienting comedown of "Amoxicilin" and the dreary melancholy of "Ekaterina.
Because you probably haven’t heard it before, go ahead and spend six minutes digesting Ulrich Schnauss’ 2003 gem “A Letter From Home.” It is not remarkable, just a perfectly executed, wonderfully warm eruption of montage-pop – one of those rare moments you almost resent for being so pretty. The thirtysomething German producer has been generating this sort of heart-swollen beatifica to almost no cultural penetration, critical or commercial, for nearly two decades now. He’s the crossover soda-pop electro-merchant that never was, a would-be Ben Gibbard collaborator, the type of guy who makes giant, life-affirming, euphoria-glazed dance music for a small, but dedicated segment of the population.
Ulrich Schnauss knows what he likes, namely the amorphous rush of shoegaze and the swooning teenage dreams of 1980s synth-pop and goth at its most feathery and unthreatening, all of it run through a slick spritz of turn-of-the-millennium IDM. And he's been giving it to us for over a decade now, both solo and as a member of Engineers, regardless of whether or not these homages to 4AD's imperial years and the less convoluted side of Warp offer anything new or vibrant. Schnauss has managed to make a career for himself on being just pleasant enough to keep you from turning off any of his records in mid-flow, but I can't think of any Schnauss track that's surprised me or stuck with me or compelled me to click "repeat.
Ulrich Schnauss has made quite the name for himself over the years in the swirled world of shoegaze thanks to his own electronic contributions to the genre and also his remixing of fellow dream chasers such as Asobi Seksu, Mojave 3, and Airiel. In addition to his wide range of solo efforts, Schnauss has also been a keyboardist for dream pop outfits Longview and Engineers. Prior to the release of his upcoming solo LP A Long Way to Fall, Schnauss also recorded Underrated Silence, an album with Engineers bandmate Mark Peters.
Though they may not seem it initially, shoegaze and electronica are two of music’s closest cousins. The rich reverb of My Bloody Valentine contains the same sort of intrinsic trance found in the music of more digitally encompassing bands like Orbital. Call it the unwinding of pop to its rudiments, the unfurling of urgency into something more passive and organic but still undeniably melodic.
The fact that Ulrich Schnauss has employed the Johnny Marr approach to music making ? joining Manchester shoegazers Longview as keyboardist in 2005 before leaving to become a member of Engineers in 2010 ? certainly hasn't slowed his musical output. In fact, the German born laptopist has released a slew of LPs, EPs, remixes and collaborations since he's become a band-member-for-hire. The latest, Underrated Silence, sees Schnauss teaming with Engineers multi-instrumentalist Mark Peters.