Say the words “German pop” to any self-respecting pop music fan and you’ll probably be met with a shudder of horror whilst your unfortunate friend witnesses visions of cheesy Euro-disco and the immortal Eurovision words “Nul Points” echoing through the consciousness. Our Teutonic chums have never really had the best of reputations in the music world. See, with the honourable expection of Kraftwerk, the Germans have never really been known for their groundbreaking bands.
Look beyond the stereotype however and you may well find some undiscovered gems. Notwist for example, have been together since 1990 and in that time have released six albums. Their latest, Neon Golden, is their most commercial work to date, yet still manages to remain challenging and fresh.
The Notwist’s music is pretty much unclassifiable. Imagine if Badly Drawn Boy had grown up in Berlin, not Bolton, and been raised on a diet of ’80s electronica instead of Bruce Springsteen. Now imagine him giving his songs to Nick Drake who sings them with Stereolab as his backing band. You’re probably halfway there.
The opening track, ‘One Step Inside Doesn’t Mean You Understand’ perfectly sets the tone – a plucked acoustic guitar, with Markus Acher’s plantitive voice warning “Prepare your shoes…not to come back soon/prepare your heart…not to stop too soon”, with myriad instruments being added as the song progresses. It all sounds strange, slightly sinister, and utterly wonderful.
Things get even better with ‘Pilot’, which could almost be New Order and has the potential to be a massive underground hit. The heartbreaking “Pick Up The Phone”, meanwhile, should not be listened to if you’ve just had an argument with the other half…
What’s so great about Notwist is that they’re not afraid to experiment, yet still manage to keep their minds fixed on the finished product, thus avoiding the trap of disappearing up their own backsides. ‘This Room’, for example, with it’s jungle-like breakbeats, could have been a low point if the arty noodling had got out of hand. Thankfully, the end result is hypnotic without being dreary.
‘Trashing Days’ too, with it’s banjo, saxophone, and mournful vocals, really shouldn’t work on paper, but on the record sounds like the most perfect sci-fi lullaby.
By the time the lovely ‘Consequence’ finishes with the refrain “Leave me paralysed love, leave me hypnotised…”, the first thing you want to do is go straight back to the beginning of the record.
Notwist are touring in April – do yourself a favour and go and discover them for yourself.