The Notwist’s new record sounds very much like the German quartet’s previous work—beats glitch, guitars strum, lyrical desperation chills. “We want to be you,” Markus Acher sings shakily on “Signals,” the album’s opener. When he then sings “We want to light your screen,” the primary theme of Close To The Glass sinks in: The Notwist is anxiously reaching out through the morass of modern technology, one listening device at a time.
The album’s title track, with its spooky Kid A aural landscapes, slumps in next, but the record isn’t as bleak as it seems. Third track “Kong” is a poppy wonder: Like many Notwist tracks, it starts with ominous rattles and hums; unlike many of the band’s songs, “Kong” shakes off its chains as soon as it bears them. It’s surprisingly sunny for an act so rooted in detachment, and The Notwist wears Beatlesque pop surprisingly well.
It takes a certain level of confidence to place a crowd-pleaser like “Kong” so early in a record, but The Notwist has self-assurance in its blood. Eight albums into its career (nine, if you count Sturm, a 2009 film score), the band has lost none of its ability to aim boldly for the gut: The heartbreaking “Steppin’ In,” with its plainly strummed guitar and foreboding strings, sounds like an Elliott Smith outtake. “They Follow Me,” with its hushed regret, is a sure-footed and patient closer.
After the masterful Neon Golden in 2002, The Notwist was seemingly swallowed up by Postal Service fatigue. This is a shame, because the band remains a vital example of how music can be simultaneously tangible and abstract, personable and distant, without losing a thing in translation—even if, as in The Notwist’s unstable universe, mistranslation is part of the appeal.