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The Notwist : Neon Golden

REVIEW: Notwist: Neon Golden
3.9.2002 by Sean

The Notwist: Neon Golden [Cityslang, 2002]

Two words? Golden glitch.

As "One Step Inside Doesn't Mean You Understand", the unwieldly-titled first track of Neon Golden, unfolded on my stereo in pizzicato finger-plucks and clipped electrosnaps, I turned to my roommate and said: "Doesn't this sound like Radiohead?"

"Not loud Radiohead," I said, "but Kid A, "Everything In Its Right Place"-style Radiohead, with its snatches of looped, sampled sound, and its warmth. Like an orchestra tune-up laced with organ, organic but new."

We were both fans of Thom et al, so this was a hearty compliment.

"No," said Julian, "It doesn't sound like Radiohead at all."

So there you are.

Six albums into their career, Germany's the Notwist have emerged from North-American obscurity and released a record that is very, very 2002. Combining the plucked guitar honey of the New Acoustic movement with the oh-so-hot blips and scritches of Glitch, the Notwist is Badly Drawn Boy measured, quartered and reassembled into something quite wonderful. The group epitomizes the "human" electronica that has risen out of recent releases by Aphex Twin, µziq and Air, applying buzzes and pops to the self-contained melodies of vocalist Markus Acher. The band's instrumentation is sublime: lush string and horn arrangements weave around fat dub segments and back-porch banjo. "Pilot" is an excursion into Diff'rent Strokes-style europop, while high-hats and drones coax the plaintive, chopped-up words on "This Room". Each song takes a different approach to the Notwist's model, attempting different song structures and sometimes-ethnic instrumentation. Acher's vocals maintain a constant, friendly throughline, however, although he also calls attention to the disc's greatest flaw. On track after track, verses and choruses loop and blend, but rarely do they rise to any sort of crescendo. The unfortunate side-effect of the group's electronic focus is their repeated samples' lack of dynamic build. With almost every song, I craved some sort of roar and crash: a rousing climax. The increasing layers of woodwinds and percussion serve to create a sense of fullness, but the style remains too flat to truly move the listener. This is especially true on the album's best song, "Consequence", where the Notwist's embrace of organ, bells and acoustic guitar lulls as it warms, expressing loneliness even as it paints a sonic picture of loveliness. Still, I keep waiting for that moment of heartbreak, epiphany and eyes-closed awe, that climax of feeling that leaves me reeling in the work of Portishead, Songs:Ohia or Arcade Fire. It doesn't come. Although the song tries, and it closes with a well-arranged cadence, my soul is never truly stirred.

Neon Golden is a skillfull, glowing album that defines for itself a new space in which to be heard. Its experiments are successes, its compositions affecting, but ultimately, it is unable to escape the precision of its process, rise above the method of its magic.

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