Neon Golden

The Notwist made grinding metallic punk after forming in Munich in 1989, but as its members grew up, their tastes broadened and their intellect deepened. They discovered computers and European art-pop, and by 1995, when they released the sprawling 12, they'd begun replacing pounding drums with lively polyrhythmic weaves of electronic blips and light jazz percussion, and dropping guitar heroics in favor of the subtler drama of strings, horns, and modulated white-noise buzz. Last year, the more refined style matured fully and wonderfully on Neon Golden, which is finally available in America. The Notwist's previous stabs at fusing pop, techno, punk, and jazz were dominated by post-adolescent melancholy and petulance. Though Neon Golden obsesses over locked rooms and missed chances, it also acknowledges the pleasures of stasis, the distant possibility of change, and an overall affinity with the "freaks" (cited in the immense, explosive anthem "One With The Freaks") who stay in one place and watch the world go by. Throughout the record, singer-guitarist Markus Acher comes to terms with his blue mood. While he half-whispers his confessions, he also supplies tuneless guitar drones and arranges the atmospheric orchestrations, while his bassist brother Micha provides bounce, drummer Martin Messerschmidt cuts danceable beats into disjointed abstractions, and programmer Martin Gretschmann puts all the random sounds into an ornate frame, channeling chaos into a subtly stunning reflection of the human condition. Like the Acher brothers, David Shouse of The Bloodthirsty Lovers has gone through changes in his musical life. As a co-founder of The Grifters, Shouse began fusing heavy electric blues and lo-fi indie-pop in the late '80s, developing a potent, emotionally overwhelming sound by the time the band broke up in 1998. Shouse kept exploring heartbreak and disillusionment with his next group, Those Bastard Souls, while maintaining a rough-edged garage-rock style. But Shouse was originally a drummer, and for his new one-man band, he amplifies his basement blues with electronic explorations, using technology to vary the percussion. The Bloodthirsty Lovers' self-titled debut uses beats for atmosphere as much as to drive the composition or to get listeners up on their toes. Shouse slows the tempo to a tap-drip on the foggy "Call Off The Thugs," fills the room with thick boom on "2000 Light Years From Home," and experiments with techno-jazz on "Datapunk" and trip-hop on "Transgression #9." Throughout, he holds fast to his gift for stringing together hooky vamps and writing sparse, smartly sad lyrics. He hits his truest mark on "Take The Time," which uses a heavily treated snippet of unidentifiable noise as a bouncy choral counterpoint to the slow, spacey balladry. As Shouse sings about the need for reflection even in the worst of times, his background arrangement of inorganic sounds creates a feeling that's curiously humane.

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