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The Notwist
Neon Golden (City Slang)

Neon Golden, above all else that will be said over the course of the next eight hundred words, is an album that wonderfully surrenders to a Notwist fan's most pointed expectations. They have exhibited a truly refreshing assessment of what it is they do well, expanding upon their best tracks from past albums and exploiting a sound that is not only uniquely theirs, but one that perhaps represents the apex of a vastly underexposed and mutable discography.

The quartet, comprised of brothers Markus and Micha Acher (on vocals/guitar and bass, respectively), programmer/keyboard player Martin Gretschmann and drummer Martin Messerschmidt formed near Munich over ten years ago, originally embracing a more diverse, and perhaps overly ambitious jazz/pop/punk hybrid. Their self-titled 1989 debut and 1992's Nook, like most first or second records, were an early experiment into aural self-discovery. They were, of course, trying to figure out what it was that they wanted to convey to their audience. The Notwist's third album, 12 marked the group's first flirtation with electronics and the melancholy minor-chord structures that would evolve into their devastatingly emotional alt-pop sound. But it wasn't really until their 1998, Zero Hour-distributed American debut, Shrink, that one would be able to predict the path that would lead to Neon Golden.

That record had three gems in particular hinting at the formula that would eventually tighten into the taut perfection of 2002's first candidate for record of the year. "Day 7," "Chemicals," and Another Planet" were three dynamic, perfectionist compositions that explored the Notwist's ability to fill the empty emotional space of minimalist electronic glitch with the thick, driving pop sounds of 80s-inspired/4AD-revisited alternative rock. They were, by far, the best tracks on that record, contributing to an imbalance that made Shrink less than the sum of its parts.

But truly great bands will be able to assess and improve, fill the holes, expand on the sound that makes them successful. Your fans know and expect your best songs and I am positive that at every Notwist show preceding the release of Neon Golden, the most raucous crowd support was pointed at what is still one of their best, the superb "Chemicals."

You can acknowledge or continue to do your own thing. Or, as Neon Golden so holistically purports: you can do both. From the first plucked string of "One Step Inside Doesn't Mean You Understand" to the final, densely emotive layers of "Consequence," Neon Golden represents the most smartly inclusive recorded reflection I've heard from a band in many years. Each song is so good, so well-calculated and painstakingly produced; you're convinced it must be a "best of" record. It is, without a doubt, their best; unique within the underground as a record truly reaching the expectations of fans and members alike.

I always hate to review records by going track to track. You just have to listen and trust a writer's sincere recommendation. Get your hands, your ears, on this record. This in itself is a point of frustration. I originally had to order Neon Golden from amazon.de, the Deutsch branch of the ever-expanding e-commerce giant, because it was not distributed domestically. Not even as an import. Then I started seeing it around in specialty shops. Soon after, it showed up in Virgin Megastores nation-wide still with the $20.99 price tag. I wouldn't expect anyone to drop that much for an LP (that's what we're here for) but it just may be worth it.

For those searching for a truly successful hybrid of electronic and organic sounds, where banjos, cellos, cachon, canjira, and of course the ubiquitous zarb intermix with well-programmed ambient glitch and breaks, this is the record. Seriously, this is the one. Obscure world instruments compliment the traditional guitar/bass/drum backbone, strings add mood and deliver tone; clicks and cuts blend seamlessly in and out with kick drums and snares to an indiscernible point of simple, sonic bliss; memorable melodies mark each track with the intelligence and forethought that are the cornerstones of longevity. Although the Notwist may never again write a song that will make you smile as much as "One With the Freaks." Maybe they will never again be able to meld the dancibility of new wave, the head-nod of dub and the rolling guitar lines of a lost alternative classic as perfectly as they do on "Pick Up the Phone." They will, however, continue to challenge and inspire on an even more evolved plane. I challenge them to remain conscience of what makes them so good and continue to do it. It can be daunting for talented indie musicians, releasing nearly perfect albums, to sell barely enough copies to yield modest salaries. It's simply unfair. It makes me want to fucking fight. Here was my first punch.

--Steve Marchese




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[email protected] | June 2002 | Issue 27
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