The Notwist - Close To The Glass | Album Review | By Volume

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NWClose ToTheGlass

The Notwist

Close To The Glass

The Notwist haven’t really changed, but their brand of subdued, glitchy post-punk still resonates, if you’re patient.

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Author: on February 17, 2014
8.7
City Slang

I’m going to start my review for The Notwists’s latest record, Close to the Glass, by critiquing Robert Christgau’s dismissal of the band’s quietly glorious 2004 release Neon Golden. Christgau is an all-too-easy target, really; his writing is borderline egotistic, purveying a voice that seems dedicated to the notion that he is the All Mighty Gatekeeper of Taste with an abandon so complete its lack of self-awareness would be impressive if it wasn’t so grating. Ten years ago, Christgau wrote this snippet on Neon Golden, deeming it “Dud of the Week” for The Village Voice: “young people who think Kraftwerk were more important than the Ramones are free to satisfy their craving for the neu with this retreat into simplicity. But even Radiohead and Mouse on Mars contain more chaos. And the chaos is still out there.” What the fuck? Sure, this was ten years ago and nobody should feel completely comfortable with everything they have ever written — I know I would certainly phrase things differently on some reviews if I were writing them now. But with Christgau, a capsule review ten years old is still relatively contemporary while also proving exemplary of his ubiquitous style. All this bluster through negation: back in 2004, Christgau apparently didn’t take the time to think through what he was implying with a simple wave of his diction wand. Everything here is about comparison in some ill-defined and arbitrary system of hierarchy — more important, but even.

But why, pray tell, would I spend the first paragraph of a record review making fun of a Christgau piece about another Notwist album that’s over a decade old? Partly, I get my kicks poking fun at the so-called Dean of Music Critics, but I could do that with a number of reviews, so what gives now? Mostly, in pointing toward the problematic train of thought wrought within that tingly spine of pseudo-poesy effusing from each and every capsule review Christgau puts out (to either praise an album he doesn’t really mention or bash an album [and band] he doesn’t really ever mention either), there is a shimmering example of The Notwist’s paradigm and its dualism as both curse and courage. Perhaps I should pay heed to the venerable Dean because he’s been doing it for so long, but a whole tickle-trunk full of overripe metaphors and historical analogies suggests otherwise; not all of us decide to take up a writing voice so full of pomp and snootiness as to make every stereotypical fin-du-siècle Englishmen in the room blush. And yet in a capsule review that so concisely and summarily dismisses Neon Golden — an album full of quiet, intriguing layers of lapping glitch-rhythms and laptop bloops-and-bleeps that understate a rather sweeping compositional melancholy — as being a “simplistic” regurgitation of Kraftwerk (who are, objectively speaking, not as important as The Ramones), Christgau inadvertently hits the nail on the head.

Here we have The Notwist’s struggle in an era that quickly forgot their brand of careful, quiet, glitchy melancholy pop in favour of … well countless other trends that have come and gone since 2004. Christgau was so ready to pounce dismissively back then, but in the fairness of hindsight — The Notwist is an easy band to forget. Whether that’s a condition of our cultural fast-forwardness or a fault in the band’s presentation is up to you. But for a band whose mythos had always seemed to revolve around their tireless evolution of sound — they apparently used to play metal — the brothers Archer seemed to find something deeply compatible in Neon Golden’s programming and decided to stick around for a while. Unsurprisingly, then, the band’s last release, the superb 2008 effort The Devil, You + Me, seemed to float along by the wayside. The beats were too quiet and Archer’s hushed whisper didn’t carry the weight necessary to break through the hazy doom and gloom of Have a Nice Life or the Springsteen worship of Gaslight Anthem’s breakout, The ’59 Sound. There has to be kudos given, though, to a band that refused to simply transcribe their sound across fads; they didn’t bolster their synths to club-levels or fall into an all too easy pit of ambient electro-post-rock, or whatever you want to call it. Steady as she goes. And as I have reiterated countless times in other reviews, there is a significant difference between stasis and honing one’s talent.

If Close to the Glass appears to fall into the former, if it seems like another run in the line of post-millennial glitchy laptop-pop, which on first listen could very well be the case, there are a number of wonderful surprises sprinkled throughout. After a hushed and swirling opening duo, the album kicks into the spritely pop of “Kong”. The quick strumming guitars and major-key backdrop drone suddenly instills a moment of positive brightness in an album that feels so deeply tied to the nighttime — along with Alcest’s bursting shoegaze pop of “Opale”, “Kong” presents one of the most wonderfully surprising moments of this early 2014. That’s not the only time The Notwist pull out this kind of stop: “Seven Hour Drive” sounds much like a Yo La Tengo standard, replete with honey-suckle melodies and hazy guitar tones, which blossoms kindly out of the darkness. But for all of these bright surprises, Close to the Glass is still most interested in fine-tuning the kinds of intersecting and overlapping laptop rhythms that were first fully realized on Neon Golden.

To that end, the final five tracks of Close to the Glass comprise something of an improvisational suite that skirts much closer to measured spontaneity than ramshackle impulse. It’s a suite of morphological recurrence; melodic motifs circle and recirculate as Markus Archer’s vocals weave in and out of the slowly morphing beats and atmospherics. “Run Run Run” is the most straightforward of these tracks, while still leaving room for oscillating saxophones and hemiolas aplenty to roam about and undercut the melancholic, robotic funereal march that takes a late game turn into something approaching a steam-punk disco. “Steppin’ In” works mostly as a bridge piece, connecting the rhythmic and melodic dots that lead from “Run Run Run” to the stunning album climax that is “Lineri”. A nine minute instrumental, “Lineri” bubbles and froths at the surface, edging ever closer toward chaos while never meeting that tipping point. The album’s entire mood comes to a head in the “simplistic” run of “Lineri.” “Simplistic”, indeed; “Lineri” is the kind of song that a capsule review might squash with a single listen: too long, not enough going on. Hum-drum. But a more studied examination reveals a glorious composition that takes the melodic, rhythmic, and atmospheric motifs found throughout the rest of the album and stretches them to their very limits, expanding them to see how far such seemingly simple ideas can go, pressing them until they reach their breaking point.

But it never does break, and that’s the beauty of “Lineri” as it fades away into the lovely and introspective album closer “They Follow Me”. Nothing breaks on Close to the Glass because sometimes things just disintegrate into a series of constituent parts, ready to expand once more — only to collapse again and again. Recurrence and recirculation: to claim such tautology as simplistic is to ignore the every expanding possibility of rediscovery. So, yes, Radiohead and Mouse on Mars might have more chaos than this hip neu-music, but all chaos begs to be returned upon, to be remembered and brought back and began again. Close to the Glass remembers and laments some sort of chaos of old; but it’s an album that attempts not to reinvigorate chaos, but to re-order and re-organize the embers. So the band doesn’t need to stray so much from Neon Golden anyway because the process of re-organization is long and full of puzzles — it might sound boring to some, but sign me up for these parties of the nighttime.

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