Oh boy. When I first read that Alva Noto was making a record with Blixa Bargeld, I was pretty excited. When I heard the first previews, I was very excited: they were breath-taking. And when I finally got the album, well, it was even better than I’d expected. Oh boy.
I adore the work of Carsten Nicolai, whether he’s making me fall back in love with found-sound ambient (the Xerrox records), glitching up delicate piano works (his collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto), or pushing the boundaries of just-barely-there techno (the insistently propulsive Aleph-1). With the Einstürzende Neubauten frontman, we get his glitchy take on industrial, and it turns out I adore that too.
Much of Nicolai’s work is quiet, but it is rarely deferential. This album is rarely quiet, and never deferential. Tracks like Once Again and the staggering Ret Marut Handshake feature a beat that sits right up the front of the mix and pops directly into my cranium, a phenomenally buzzing bass sound that appears to be erupting from the underworld, and Bargeld’s growling Germanic vocals. Bersteinzimmer is more sinister, centring around a dissonant string swell, supplemented by ominous clicking and clanking noises, and only near the end introducing a quietly threatening vocal. The title track is another sinister one, with a repeated refrain of “You, you as in insect, mimic yourself”, over a stark broken beat and a mournful bass melody. Berghain, appropriately, is a kind of techno, but a horribly twisted and broken kind: we could be clubbing in hell… the drugs have gone horribly wrong, we are trapped in a crowd of gibbering imps, and Bargeld is our satanic MC… Perhaps the most surprising track is the cover of Harry Nilsson’s One (“…is the loneliest number”). Bargeld’s vocal here is restrained and genuinely tender (remember, he did sing Kylie’s part in Where The Wild Roses Grow when Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds toured). It ticks along with a time-signal beep, some scraps of piano, and a part-time buzzing glitch which kicks in on the verses with a gorgeous warmth. I love it when a cover makes you completely re-think your preconceptions of a song, and this version is an excellent example of that for me: I don’t find it in the least bit twee.
All in all, it’s surprising, inventive, varied, touching, energizing, and so superbly produced that I just want to stop what I’m doing, turn the volume right up, and get lost in it. Literally awesome.
I bought this from Juno. They call it leftfield, whatever that means.