Einstürzende Neubauten : Rampen (apm: alien pop music)

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Einstürzende Neubauten rampen

There’s a moment near the very end of the new Einstürzende Neubauten album Rampen (apm: alien pop music) where escalating sonic chaos drops away to leave behind what appears be the deep tone of a meditative bell, which gets off maybe eight tolls before it’s swallowed up again. This bit of “Gesundbrunnen” is a shadow that follows the shape of a wondrous and oddly meditative LP that never forgets, escapes, or accedes to its four-decade-old pedigree: the noisiest of noise-rock from some of music’s original industrialists.

Absent a set of lyrics accurately translated from German, we have to use the occasional English and the sounds on Rampen so our minds and hearts can interpret what the album actually means. That understanding ends up resting on another word in the title: alien. And sure, there are moments evoking the residents and hazards of outer space, especially the nine-minute album centerpiece “Planet Umbra.” An umbra is an area covered by shadow, yet the planet described in song has trouble playing host to shadows at all. So more important here is the use of “alien” to imply the strange and unfamiliar, a broad and corroded brush with which Einstürzende Neubauten have long painted.

We end up with many songs where we can imagine situations thanks to the band’s wisely selected and modified sounds—boats’ bubbles and hatches being battened down (“Planet Umbra”), for example, or being led through a gurgling swamp at night (“Everything Will be Fine”). “Es koennte sein” finds the band whispering a tale like a troupe of medieval bards before their magic shifts listeners to a cacophonous setting fit for forges and sorcery. “Before I Go” literally signals some form of physical departure preceding some sort of psychological shutdown (“I put a cryptic message on the door”). And mixed in with clear mentions of fantastical unterwelt and ubermensch, Neubauten ask us to explore deep, murky concepts like yearning and the unnecessary. Alien pop music, indeed.

On Rampen we also have to acknowledge just how well Blixa Bargeld has learned at the hem of Nick Cave while playing with The Bad Seeds, fine-tuning his voice (and those of his EN bandmates) from just another instrument in the din to a tool for role-playing and atmosphere. Bargeld is an arresting outsider vocalist, able to approximate pastoral folk on “Es koennte sein” or front a droning choir on “Tar & Feathers.” He can be a creepy backwater hermit turned tour guide as if out of a horror movie (“Everything Will be Fine”), or hiccup, click, and yelp to approximate the aggressors and victims of a completely different horror movie (“Ist Ist”). Bargeld and the band seem largely committed to quiet desperation as opposed to the primal screams of years past, and so this album follows.

But this is still an Einstürzende Neubauten album, and the presence of noise in the making of music is still as vital and signature as the music itself. Bargeld’s choked-off language and the band’s ever-clattering percussion present to me a drum-side equivalent to Sonic Youth, each band breaking both convention and equipment to make new structures for sound. “The Pit of Language” feels full of echoes of the detuned plucks and distorted keyboard passages we heard way back on Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile—the industrial-music circle will be unbroken. And amid all of the proper and constructed equipment for this band and album, Alexander Hacke’s bass is a star of this show, a signature deep throb offering counterpoint to struck taut wires, zipping along corrugated metal, and the rattle of glass. 

Einstürzende Neubauten have definitely softened by degrees in the 21st century. I wonder if technology is catching up with them, and without actually watching them perform it’s getting harder to pick out in a song like “Ick wees nich (Noch nich)” what’s coming from a traditional instrument, what’s coming from makeshift instruments and detritus, what’s being processed in the moment, and what’s getting fixed in post. I have never sat down with the band’s Silence is Sexy album, but my understanding of it suggests Rampen (apm: alien pop music) is something of an aural kindred spirit to the group’s 2000 album Silence Is Sexy, with a touch more immediacy. I don’t know if that excites older Neubauten fans, or fans of their older and more aggressive work. Yet there’s a lot to be said for music that’s not just listenable but replayable, because if it’s replayable it seems like it might be enjoyable. When it’s enjoyable, it gets that much closer to essential.

Label: Potomak

Year: 2024

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Einstürzende Neubauten rampen

Einstürzende Neubauten : Rampen (apm: alien pop music)

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