Sometimes the ever-shifting musical landscape can make the listener pause to consider where a returning artist exactly fits in. The first release for almost four years from Tosca (Viennese duo Richard Dorfmeister and Rupert Huber) is a case in hand. Their prepossessing, gently beatific music first appeared around the turn of the century, most noticeably with the release of the acclaimed Suzuki. Each subsequent release has seen them navigate post-downtempo, trip hop waters with a calm authority and quiet modesty. When approaching Odeon the question that arises is how will their sound fare in the altered musical terrain of 2013?
There’s a sense with Odeon that they’ve consciously tried to do something different, delivering something a little distanced from their other work, without sacrificing their core principles. Inevitably there are moments that don’t translate quite as well as others but on the whole they generally succeed. Importantly, there is no sense that their sound has dated or faded.
Odeon’s key point of difference is the array of guest vocalists that have been enlisted for the record. Dorfmeister recently spoke of how they wanted to make this a darker record but this only really manifests itself on certain tracks. Indeed, the two stand-out vocal tracks sit at the other end of the musical spectrum. Belgian singer-songwriter Sarah Carlier brings a warmth and sultriness to What If, aided also by the thread of acoustic guitar that percolates through the track, whilst Brazilian vocalist Lucas Santtana brings a fleet-footed, sun-kissed lightness to Stuttgart.
On Jay Jay and In My Brain Prinz Eugen however the vocals of JJ Jones are far less effective, sounding poorly reconciled to the music. The former has a vague Depeche Mode feel to it with its mildly propulsive, beat-driven sound whilst the pronounced riffs and wheezy, slightly overstretched vocals of the latter result in arguably the weakest track on the album. These two moments aside however, it’s generally a good showing and musically there are plenty of interesting things happening under the surface.
Heatwave has a nice underlying tension to it, reminiscent of late Massive Attack, whilst Chris Eckman of The Walkabouts shows that rougher, slightly more abrasive vocals can work in the correct circumstances on Meixner. Cavallo meanwhile demonstrates a skillful synthesis of different elements (also incorporating Roland Neuwirth’s part-whispered vocal). Paradoxically, a case can be made for the two strongest pieces being the brief instrumentals that open and close the album. Zur Guten Ambience ushers in the album in understated style whilst Bonjour offers a suitably ambient epilogue.
Odeon may lack two of the qualities that were so evident and satisfying on albums like Suzuki and No Hassle, namely their smooth consistency and unbroken flow. Similarly, it may not have quite the same vitality and zestfulness but, imperfections aside, it shows evidence of a single-mindedness and versatility than many may have suspected they didn’t possess.