To seasoned listeners of indie rock and electronica, it seems like the Notwist have been around forever. That may be because The Messier Objects, a collection of instrumental tracks supposedly intended as soundtracks for films, theater productions and radio dramas, is the German indie rockers 10th release since their first self-titled album was released nearly 25 years ago in 1991. Starting out as a noisy punk/metal band, most listeners probably became familiar with them after their breakout release, 2002’s Neon Golden.
Neon Golden found the Notwist completely abandoning their punk and metal roots and embraced the early-millennium sounds of the post-Kid A universe, condensing cerebral post-rock, chilly IDM and post-‘90s dystopianism into compact and effective four minute songs. Their output has been rather scarce since Neon Golden’s success, with their collaboration with Themselves (known collectively as 13 & God) of the then burgeoning label Anticon’s hip-hop scene being their most notable post-Neon release. After a proper follow-up to Neon, 2008’s The Devil, You + Me, they composed a film soundtrack and took a five-year hiatus. They returned in spring of last year with Close to the Glass, which was received warmly, with many seeing the record as a welcome return to form, and now, just year later, they release this set of unreleased instrumental material just this past January which constitutes the shortest time between releases for the Notwist.
To preface, to call this a new Notwist album would be entirely misleading, Messier Objects feels more like a B-sides release, at best. The tracks are entirely instrumental and, as mentioned above, are/were “intended” for use as soundtrack material. “The soundtrack to what?”, you might ask. Well, nothing, as far as I can tell. The soundtrack appropriation is merely a way to present these rather lifeless and unendingly dull instrument takes as something other than what they are, boring. Much of the Notwist’s past output had always contained a certain cinematic quality, but it was their emphasis on songcraft and Markus Acher’s dreamy vocals that tied up the loose ends and made the Notwist’s music rise above so many of their post-rock peers.
What we’re presented with here sound an awful lot like early 2000’s “folktronica” drowsiness inducers that the indie-electronica movement has worked so hard to rid itself of. Melodies are nowhere to be found so individual tracks are nearly impossible to single out, just cut up snatches of sampled bells, aimless harps, droning analog synths and skittery drum machines that bring to mind múm’s 2000 debut Yesterday Was Dramatic—Today Is OK, but without the playful quirkiness that made those songs work. It’s a bit of a relief to know that this isn’t being pushed as anything but a chance to hear some of the Notwist’s unreleased material, but there isn’t much here for even the long-time Notwist fan. If you still haven’t, do yourself a favor and check out 2014’s Close to the Glass to hear the Notwist at their best, and not at their sleepiest.
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