Berlin-based instrumentalists To Rococo Rot here present their seventh album which, we are told, is so named as a “celebration of uncertainty”. The album was partly recorded at the studio of compatriots and legendary Krautrock / avant-garde act Faust, and the intention seems to have been to harness some of the motorik magic for their own purposes. Indeed, a couple of tracks actually feature Faust members too – of which more later.
One of this album’s most readily identifiable features is repetition. Nearly every track takes one sequence of notes, or a snippet of melody, and rhythmically repeats and riffs on it. The effect can be hypnotic (Bells), soothing (Away), and sometimes recalls “chill out” or ambient music, especially on the laconic Forwardness and Working Against Time. The pace on tracks like Horses can begin to drag; the development is sometimes so slow and incremental as to be almost imperceptible. Several tracks almost seem to play themselves out, tapering gently off at the end to silence (Away, Seele, Ship).
The music is conjured up by combining the artificial and the organic, a mix that works best on Forwardness – one of the album’s highlights – with its warm guitars and synth effects producing an uplifting carnival atmosphere, hinted at further by the sound of steel drums. More glitch-based moments include parts of Horses, the 8-bit computer game opening of short track No Way To Prepare, and Place It, with its enjoyably oriental effects. These contribute a sense of urgency and go some way to offsetting the pace issue, although by the time Ship comes round, towards the album’s end, things are definitely dragging.
The Krautrock influence meanwhile can be heard here and there, most overtly in the motorik beat of Away and Bells. Working Against Time, weirdly, arrives with a Stone Roses swagger, in the rhythm, the bassline and its stoned groove.
It would be unfortunate if the dragging pace prevented listeners staying to the end, since the closing track – Friday – is head and shoulders above any other. This 10 minute epic, on which the band were joined by Faust’s Jochen Irmler and his self-built organ, is by far the most interesting. Discarding the one-riff-repetition used elsewhere, instead they produce a slow-build soundscape, all disparate sounds and a rolling, rumbling background. Sounds drift in and out of earshot: something that sounds like a helicopter; a waterfalls; a throbbing pulse; a church organ (presumably Irmler’s). It’s a magnificent way to end an album; this evocative, atmospheric track seems to be telling a story that can’t quite be decoded, though the mental images spun whilst trying are definitely worth any ensuing frustration.
Less a celebration of uncertainty, then, than an exposition on repetition and its lulling, hypnotic allure, Speculation is a welcome return after To Rococo Rot’s two-plus years away, and a fruitful collaboration which places it neatly as a continuum on the timeline of experimental German music.