Gudrun Gut is always busy. From her short stint in an early incarnation of Einstürzende Neubauten she has been an instrumental part of the Berlin music and art scenes for the best part of 30 years. Her debut solo album – I Put A Record On, released in 2007 – came relatively late in her career, but considering the sheer volume of work Gut puts in to so many aspects of the Berlin scene, it was perhaps unsurprising that it took her so long to make a record under her own name.
Wildlife finds Gut retreating from the city hum of Berlin to head to her country hideaway in Uckermark. There’s plenty of nature referenced in opener Protecting My Wildlife, on which Gut’s spectral voice drifts over a laid back backbeat (complete with wooden percussion), as she conjures up images of spider webs and drinking the morning dew. A cursory look down the tracklist finds allusions to the natural world everywhere: Slow Snow, Garten, Tiger, and Leaves Are Falling make the focal point of the album clear.
However, as might be expected from someone who has lived their life in the heart of Berlin, it’s not too long before the city makes its presence felt. Garten channels Laibach through a rave filter and throws in a dollop of John Williams‘ Jaws theme for good measure. It’s as terrifying as it is danceable. This is an album built on a series of contrasts, but more often than not, little is defined as black and white and Gut delights in blurring the lines.
There’s the relationship between nature and the city for starters, which runs deeper than a simple juxtaposition of song titles and city nights. Mond’s opening percussive motif conjures up the sound of falling rain whilst the buzzing electronics take the role of the metropolis. Then there’s Gut’s vocals, which occupy a curious point between kindly warmth, threatening cold hearted dominatrix and sultry siren. Her take on Tina Turner‘s Simply The Best might not be a complete success, but the meeting of guitar squall, metallic percussion and Gut’s Marlene Dietrich style drawl is intriguing. Her proclaimation that “you’re the best” becomes almost comedic in its non-plussed tone, whilst the line “I would rather be dead”, delivered in the same style, is quite chilling.
Little Nothing sounds like a distorted outtake from Björk‘s Debut mixed with the smoky backroom drama of Maxinquaye; a kind of Venus As Boy Defiled. Gut’s presence fades in and out throughout, her voice hidden behind distortion one moment and adopting an comforting motherly tone the next. Musically it’s confusing too, with its gloriously stoned lope coupled to a relentlessly creepy siren call. If the desired effect was to chill in both senses of the word, then Gut has got the mix right here. Slow Snow finds Gut discussing contrasts, and snow’s ability to make everything black and white. As might be expected she’s in distinctly icy mode vocally, whilst musically things take a more delicate approach, the piano sounding as if it is slowly thawing.
Wildlife is not a career defining album – that would be an impossibility considering Gut’s work to date – but it is a beguiling and wonderful world to become immersed in. Though some of the musical references are a little dated, there’s such depth and clarity in the thought processes at work here that any such concerns are quite redundant.