Album Reviews

OMO – The White Album

(LoAF) UK release date: 21 September 2009

OMO - The White Album As a German indie band your options are quite limited. The country that is oft derided for inflating David Hasselhof to geopolitical proportions has produced Krautrock from the old West, techno from Cologne, neo-folk from the forests and myriad local industrial scenes. It has a capital which vies for placing as the clubbing capital of the world. Yet its indie scene is constituted of a litany of undistinguished acts, many caught in a derivative Anglo posture; a predicament that has lasted for decades.

International relevance for German guitar bands still seems hampered by the kind of dawn-of-rock-‘n’-roll thinking that would use the word ‘Original’ on Hamburg club posters to indicate a UK or US act in order to distinguish them from their domestic (read inferior) counterparts. This exoticism can be seen operating now, at labels such as Apricot, Parapop, Grand Hotel van Cleef and Morr Music, where the bands either exclusively, or mostly, sing in English, and where Anglo formulas and touchstones still prevail.

German born David Muth and Berit Immig of OMO are migrants from this culture. Having made the UK their home, formerly playing together in the band Karamasov a decade before releasing OMO’s debut album on Lo Alternative Frequencies, they find themselves in the interesting position of relating their Germanic twee-electro to a primarily English audience. And in translation a product arises that would not quite fit with the Anglo indie aesthetic of their origins, something that is much more self-consciously Germanic.

With Immig importing her pan-Europeanism from her duties in The Chap, their migrant positioning allows them the space with which to toy with German identity and knowingly project continental stereotypes onto the UK market.

ROV sees them coyly playing with the Vorsprung Durch Technik of their national mythos, as Immig reads off a promotional sales blurb for various underwater vehicles. There is a certain kind of poetry evoked by juxtaposing the techno-delight vernacular of the brochure and the rudimentary curds ‘n’ whey indie simplicity. It recalls a Wes Anderson film: fairytales of the mundane, the same faux-earnestness and cartoonish adventures, laced in odd pathos; it could be the song of Steve Zissou. But it also displays a willingness to exploit our conceptions of our continential cousins, living up to type and ironically bashing it around.

In another move an English band would be hard-pressed to make, Her Body demonstrates the poetics of science. Plays of hardness and softness come out in a detailing of the basics of avian biology, sing-spoken over a lo-fi twee offkeyness delivered straight from the annals of K Records’ The Blow. On Oversized Immig placidly chants “Will you be surprised when I’m oversized?” in a strangely non-emotive look at supersize culture. Over Wire-like clanging guitar with a stubby drum machine, Turtleneck has Muth carefully enunciating the words “the crucial time has come / for us to be as one / and I am staring back / my turtleneck is black”.

As much as we get a drama of austere Germanic seduction, with ironic use of staring and turtlenecks, at the same is delivered the classic twee trope of masculine sexual incompetence.

‘Rudimentary’ barely does justice to the committed amateurism of the lo-fi twee-electro, which is dispersed very sparingly, without frills, throughout the album. On Live Show a synth solo – think Devo‘s Mongloloid squared – consists of a cutoff being torn like a squeal of a jeans zipper. On 2pm we have the riff from Air‘s Sexy Boy made into a Germanic twee guitar ascension; it’s what one would have to read as a deliberate propitiation to the Gods of creakyness. At its most shambolic the music’s cockeyed awkwardness makes it sound a little like an acid casualty repeatedly falling over a Bontempi. But by some special alchemy the atmosphere, of intimacy and post-punk primitivism holds together; dark and claustrophobic but also quirky and liable to take smart turns.

The pair bring a sharply contrasting vocal style to the table. Muth makes bizarre noises, mouthshapes subordinate words, as inchoate as an echo chamber. And while the term ‘Nicoism’ is usually applied by critics to a vocal act of a certain sincerity, as if the only mode for Northern rock Chanteuse is one of inscrutable nihilism, here Immig is moved to undercut the heroin blankness with a knowing ironic distance, a coaxing mockery behind the haughty incantations. It’s Generation X boredom: with a lack of commitment, the voice of a public announcement where the sneaker-clad mic operator knows there are better things to be doing with a life.

Sometimes the irony is combined with absurdist lyrics, as on Fish In The Tin in which Immig chants “Hello fish / hello fish / in the tin”, sounding like the comedic poetry of Ivor Cutler, as much as the album’s main touchstone Wire.

In the vernacular of downsizing OMO stands for ‘One Man Operation’, the effacing of the female contribution on the album sounding absurd as it also sounds vaguely political. On Hairy Bastard, thin granular vocals spit the line, “you’re just a hairy bastard” in close sunken harmony, with no other accompaniment but the slowly undulating wail of an air-raid siren. Piss-take feminism or not, one can’t help but notice both voices emphasising the ‘ah’ vowel sounds of ‘bahstard’ far more than at any point before, much like an English toff, or perhaps even better, a German speaker.

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OMO – The White Album