If you’ve ever wondered what it might feel like to have your head fully submerged in the ether (in the Aristotelian sense, not the Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing-sense), you have but to perk your ears for the ambient electronica of Ulrich Schnauss. Say hello to Goodbye, the Kraut’s third and latest excursion into the wide open spaces of electronic psychedelia, massive soundscapes of ghostly effects, dense layers and angelic, near-transparent vocals.
Schnauss is no stranger to the genre; his first two albums, Far Away Trains Passing By and A Strangely Isolated Place explored lonesome expanses of sweetly droning ambiance. Goodbye returns to those same sterile shores, where synthesizers melt like the glazed orb of the sun setting into the sea, where muffled lullabies wash over your floating body like the gentle pull of the ebb and tide. This is the sound of Soma as only Aldous Huxley could have conceived it, of closing one’s eyes and drifting off into a calm state of nothingness.
In the early ’90s this may have been a brave new world of music, but by the later part of this decade it’s pretty well-worn territory. Tear through the gauzy strips of synthetic sound and you reach the more obvious influences, shoegazing heroes like Slowdive, Spiritualized, My Bloody Valentine and Ride. For whatever reasons Schnauss seems content to hide behind looming walls of enveloping noise and layer upon layer of sonic dystrophy. Think the musical equivalent of Novocain, and you’ll start to get the idea.
“Never Be The Same” is the immediate rapture of an opening track, dousing the listener in soothing waves of synthesizer swoops, a simple programmed beat and lighter-than-air vocals. It’s like chewing a handful of vicodin and strolling through the forest at midday as the sun’s rays stream through breaks in the leaves, in other words: numb beauty. Unfortunately as the album progresses, the euphoria starts to wear off. And as any experienced audiophile knows, the comedown is never easy. “Einfeld” recalls the more lucid moments of tranquility from Place, while “In Between The Years” seems better suited to the Blade Runner soundtrack.
Even as it invokes the more halcyon days of Orbital’s II, “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” does little to reiterate the urgency of its title. In spite of containing an enjoyable lazer-guided melody or two Goodbye fails to distance itself substantially from its predecessors. But if parking your head in the clouds is your modus operandi, then by all means, Ulrich is your man. Just be sure to remember the words of a late-great Gonzo journalist: “There is nothing more depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge.”
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