After a six-year break from producing new material, The Notwist are back, with Close To The Glass. The Germans gained some serious acclaim upon the release of 2002’s Neon Golden, a landmark of electronic post-rock, but other than a lukewarm 2008 release, a comparatively obscure collaboration album, and a forgettable film soundtrack, The Notwist almost completely faded into the obfuscated shadows from which they initially appeared.
And so, as the group reaches the quarter-century mark and off-kilter electronic music is firmly established as a musical hegemon, it might be good to ask: is electronic post-rock really relevant anymore? And with that, is The Notwist relevant, too?
Ever since abandoning their post-hardcore roots for a mold of Aphex Twin/Autechre-inspired glitchiness and Bark Psychosis post-rock, The Notwist released quirky pop songs that steadily grew more experimental with each release. That trend continues on Close To The Glass, which puts more emphasis on electronic exploration than has been seen by the group since 1998’s Shrink. Markus Acher’s voice greets the listener like a ghost from the past, seemingly unchanged since the band’s inception. There’s a bit of the old melodies on songs like Kong and Casino – think One With The Freaks from Neon Golden – that will appeal to older fans, but newer ones (or at least those used to the current bass-heavy pop climate) will find Close To The Glass an accessible release and a good representation of The Notwist’s catalogue.
One of the most striking examples of The Notwist’s technical and musical proficiency is in their ability to deconstruct contemporary song structures into ones that are recognizable yet boundary-pushing. For example, the boopy electronic backings in songs like From One Wrong Place To The Next and They Follow Me are akin to a walking bass in jazz compositions, and the nine-minute “Lineri” adds and subtracts musical elements much like a 21st-century version of Tortoise‘s Djed, from Millions Now Living Will Never Die. This adeptness at composition vastly increases replayability as previously-missed features come out of the studio fog; at the risk of sounding cliché, Close To The Glass is an album that rewards multiple listens.
Close To The Glass is a much colder Notwist than before, as if a particularly lugubrious winter hit the Germans’ Bavarian homeland. Rather than basking in melancholy, The Notwist use this newfound jaggedness to great effect: Into Another Tune is a wonderfully fractured track that wrings out each note in a splintered symphony. The repetitive distorted guitar and backing melodies of Seven Hour Drive evoke the warped danciness of the final one-third of My Bloody Valentine‘s mbv. There are certainly comparisons to Thom Yorke‘s recent output, specifically in the off-putting Run Run Run.
However, not all is frozen over. Kong is classic Notwist indie pop, bringing a seriously gorgeous breath of life into the album after the melancholic title track. The acoustic lead of Casino wraps the listener in its warm embrace, preparing oneself for the icier textures of the album’s middle third. The strings on They Follow Me, despite being minor-key, feel strongly like a homecoming for the quartet, wrapping up the album in Acher’s self-admonishing, perhaps autobiographical lyrics. Acher may have “run away” as his “hands ruin everything,” but he’s certainly “not afraid / of no one else,” nor is he afraid of “go[ing] astray.”
So yes, The Notwist and electronic post-rock are relevant. But perhaps a better question would be, who cares? The importance of bands such as this is not in their ability to produce good music after a long time out of the studio, to keep up with current trends, or to redefine themselves in ways that don’t play old hat in an attempt to recapture the glory days, but simply in their will to create and enjoy that ability to create, well, anything.
As the album cover’s collage of old photographs demonstrates, memories can follow a band forever, and after six years of people wondering where you are, does that even matter anymore? After all, it’s nice just to be creating again. The Notwist is an apt example of a band that is making good music for no other reason than because making music is what they love to do, which Close To The Glass demonstrates in spades.