The extended Notwist family is getting to be so huge, it’s hard to keep track of what’s what. Between Lali Puna, Tied and Tickled Trio, Village of Savoonga, Styrofoam, 13&God, Console and Ms. John Soda, there’s bound to be some confusion between each act, and there’s perfectly good reason for that: they’re not only tied together logistically, but sonically as well. There’s a definite set of musical similarities that run through any project bearing the brothers Acher’s credits. You can count on some warm, ethereal synthesizers, some discordant guitar now and then, elegant, lovely strings and mechanical, robot beats that provide a harsh contrast to the otherwise subued melodic sounds.
All of these characteristics can be found on Notes and the Like, the new album by Ms. John Soda, a duo consisting of Notwist’s Micha Acher and Couch’s Stefanie Böhm. And, of course, all of these traits will result in a lovely, quirky record. The trick is to make one that sounds novel rather than a mere continuation of past efforts. On Notes and the Like, the duo treads familiar territory, yet avoids sounding like a stale rehash, and throws in several catchy tunes amongst the nebulous man-machine ambience as well.
“A Nod on Hold,” the opening track, sounds very much like a Notwist or Lali Puna track, skating along on bowed cello and blips and bloops seemingly pulled from Centipede or Dig Dug. However, “Hands,” the song that follows, is a reasonably straightforward pop song, one that utilizes more straightforward melodies and an accessible pop sound. Böhm’s voice is curiously detached and dreamy, but works well in this capacity, as the band’s music isn’t so much an emotional release as it is a Fritz Lang-esque hallucination.
When you hear the melody of a song like “Scan the Ways,” it comes across as deceptively simple, one guitar chord strummed at a time. Yet the mechanized beats throw the entire syncopation off, thereby creating an entirely new beast. Little details such as this keep Ms. John Soda from ever becoming a conventional rock band. Still, they do pretty well as an unconventional rock band. Look no further than “No. One,” which actually is a single. It’s far from the first tune I would have picked as such, with its Sonic Youth-meets-electro instrumentation and deviation from traditional verse-chorus format. It is, however, a good song, even if it’s not the catchiest. That honor is reserved for the gorgeous “Outlined View,” which is every bit as good as Acher’s other band’s singles.
After three albums, Ms. John Soda have made a name for themselves, not just as a nice little side project, but as one of the finest acts out of Germany today. They will definitely remind you of each member’s respective “full-time” band, but their ongoing collaboration has resulted in some distinctive and memorable songwriting, and a fantastic third effort.
The Notwist – Neon Golden
Lali Puna – Faking the Books
DNTEL – Life Is Full of Possibilities
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.