Neon Golden (City Slang)
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
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.