The Notwist - Close to the Glass
The Notwist are 25 years old. That in itself is cause for celebration, but coupled with a new album and a tour with soulmate and alt-hip-hop legend Jel, well... crack out the party poppers.
In a career which has seen them swing from heavy, almost stoner rock to downbeat indie, and onwards to their more recent reinvention as experimental electronica, their latest transformation is perhaps not their most surprising, but still offers spadefulls of brain, body and soul food.
The band's first album in six years has them join Sub Pop's roster in the United States, which in some sense provides spiritual antecedents to their past material. The 13 & God side-project with Themselves saw two albums of gorgeously off-the-wall alt-pop, with Markus Acher's signature reclining Bavarian vocals backed up by Doseone's nasal flow and that very Notwist-y woodwind sound that only they seem to be able to master. Close to the Glass showcases a number of the band's unverwechselbar stylings, seeing them swing from perky pop rock to collegey ballads, and from thence to staid electronica.
'Kong' is the perkiest pop rock this side of the Wombats, in which Markus harks back to memories of a childhood deluge that saw him and his family escape to the roof of their home, dreaming of rescue by a passing superhero. It's an unexpected stand-out for a collection that largely takes place at a more withdrawn pace. The track's outro melds into krautrock with cutely crafted etchings of guitar-work and the group's inimitable treated instrumentalism jumping out like popcorn between beats.
'Seven Hour Drive' is lushly produced, but kind of feels like a stalling, burst tire-ridden example of a car journey - there's little movement, albeit while passing through some spectacular scenery. A feeling of louche-ness infects a fair chunk of the album, although even when it occasionally settles into a groove it's never a very unpleasant place to be. 'Casino' is a tender lovesong seemingly about the numbing effects of constant visceral experience; echoing the Microphones and Fog it relies on the simplest of instrumentation and showcases the strength of the band's core of pop songwriters. 'Into Another Tune' is perfect alt-electro pop with tightly woven MIDI string samples.
I'd be surprised if a better, more tenderly constructed album is released this year. Every element of Close to the Glass feels like it has been minutely polished; like the workings of a miniature pocket watch, it all feels succinct, gleaming and fresh. The usual stereotype of German efficiency doesn't, however, apply here. The beating heart of the Notwist has always been their love of a straightforward melody in amongst the most complex modes of delivery. Tracks like the opener 'Signals' have a droning quality that pushes the bounds of sweet poptronica. Even as the group experiment, they know deep down that what they are producing is consensus music.
The album may well attract some new ears to the joys of the Notwist, hitting an interesting midpoint between the extremes of their wide horizons. Their career has been too long and multifarious to be summed up by a single album. If Close to the Glass achieves anything, it is in painting a picture of a very close group of artists taking pleasure in their work.