When considering albums you wish you could hear for the first time again, The Notwist’s 2002 breakout album Neon Golden is a serious contender, and it sounds all the better for ageing 19 years.
In the rapidly developing world of electronic music production, a couple of decades is a long time. Thus when it comes to electronic music and all its derivatives, it doesn’t take time very long to separate the chaff from the innovators – those making music to the beat of their own (programmed) drum.
That Neon Golden falls in to this latter category is testament to the talent of the band’s electronic programming whiz Martin Gretschmann and their distinctive glitchpop sound, perfectly coupled with reserved vocals and some of the most covetable string arrangements this side of ‘Eleanor Rigby’.
In 1989, Gretschmann and Bavarian brothers Markus and Micha Archer formed a metal band, traversing a wonky journey via post-hardcore to arrive somewhere between electronic and indie. The band’s lineup has changed over the years, with Gretschmann being replaced by Cico Beck. Yet they’ve not strayed away hugely from this sound, albeit with a bit less glitch and a bit more experimentation. With their first studio album in 6 years, Vertigo Days is comprised of an orderly collection of sounds, peppered with a few singles of a more conventional song structure. It flits seamlessly about between pop, trip hop, post-punk and jazz, but its underlying electronic indie pulse remains.
To add to the album’s diversity they’ve also enlisted an exciting bunch of guest musicians, including the sublime wandering clarinet of Chicago jazz musician Angel Bat Dawid in ‘Into the Ice Age’. Tokyo alt brassband Zayaendo join in for the stunning reprise track ‘Into Love Again’ – its plodding crescendo, layered with giddy brass and ethereal vocals sets the tone just right for the album’s outro. Multiple guest musicians on an established band’s record can be something of a red flag – an obvious trick to contrive sounding a little less like their previous album. However, Vertigo Days’ guests sound like a natural extension of The Notwist continuing to explore their sound, with added multi-national trinkets picked up on their travels.
There’s heaps of 2021-appropriate isolation content here – in ‘Sans Soleil’, Markus Acher’s tender, bedtime voice draws you closer to politely insist in your ear “no one will I find here, but I know I’m not alone, on a planet you call home”. Similar themes also run through the introspective ‘Where You Find Me’ – an instantly likeable highlight of the poppier side to the album, recapturing the style of their Neon Golden years.
Overall, the album works best as a 49-minute mood piece of wintery, cosmic splendour rather than a collection of tracks. It’s all very cleanly recorded, with heavily quantised drums, and when the album’s ebbing and flowing energy reaches a peak you realise it’s crying out to be heard live.
Words by Quincey Brown