Saturday, May 31, 2008

In League With The Devil

The Notwist - The Devil, You + Me (City Slang, 2008)

I'm really quite perplexed by the lack of attention afforded this release by the UK music press. This is the first album from The Notwist in nearly six years, and it follows the excellent 'Neon Golden', a record that saw the group make great strides in their musical and stylistic development. Perhaps the lack of column inches in the UK is a sign of just how much the UK market tends to ignore European acts, especially at a time when so much superb music is coming from Europe and Scandinavia.

Given Markus Acher's subsequent collaborations with Doseone in 13 and God and Subtle, it comes as something of a surprise that 'The Devil, You + Me' sounds, at least on first listen, like a more conventional record than its predecessor. The stream-of-consciousness surrealism that characterised those projects is completely absent here, on a graceful and considered album arguably more interested in sound than language.

The greater emphasis on melodic directness might well disappoint more adventurous listeners. However, the group have not entirely abandoned atmosphere for this record and their arrangements remain as fascinating and mesmerising as ever. The interventions of electronics are generally subtle (save for 'Where In This World', which could easily be an offcut from 'Neon Golden') and much of the music comes with delicate shadings and a restrained percussiveness.

The vocals are consistently relaxed and understated but the more accessible melodies and harmonies help imbue the music with warmth. The Notwist sound like a much less robotic band here, even if they are content not to push too many musical boundaries. This is a slow-building collection which, given time, draws the listener into its rather intricate and spellbinding web. Some of the percussion sounds are redolent of the more recent excursions of Einsturzende Neubaten, as they have abandoned abrasive anger in favour of something more emotionally complex. Whilst The Devil is a constant presence here, not just in the album's title, this is not however a nasty or evil sounding record - instead it seems to be hinting at the human agency of the devil, and is such the group's most human record to date.

There's a creeping menace to much of this music (particularly on the superb and sinister 'Hands On Us') that suggests the initial perception of convention might be misplaced. Even the most elemental tracks here ('Boneless' is a good example) are intelligently designed, building and developing, sometimes in a determinedly linear way characteristic of the group's signature style.

It's rare to find a group exercising quite so much care and control. This is subtle and involving music, full of nooks and crannies in which to hide. Of course, there's nothing wrong with having a good tune too, and as the Devil is believed to have the best of them, it seems somewhat appropriate that this such a breezy, light and melodic work.

No comments: