Stephen Otten and his changeable band of gloomy, downtempo Germans don’t actually go out of their way to invite comparisons to Geoff Barrow and company. For one thing, Otten’s plainspoken singing voice is pleasant but nothing like Beth Gibbons’ in terror or power, but also while Portishead mk. 1 cut up old James Bond/funk samples and the like in a hip-hop fashion, much of Sankt Otten’s 1999 debut sounds as if they’re sampling the same sort of stuff Pulp was channelling on “This Is Hardcore,” and more power to them for it. Otten gets to warble and emote over what sound like slowed down Six By Seven drum breaks and haunting, fog-bound horns, and at their best (“Tiefgang”, “Meter (Heute Anders)”, the Eno-esque “Ende Gut”) the band breaks through into a nocturnal wonderland all their own.
It’s always difficult for the unilingual English speaker to evaluate a band playing in a different language, of course, but sonically Sankt Otten are all present and accounted for, and it’s nice that this forgotten little album has been salvaged by Hidden Shoal for modern (and non-German) listeners. Otten’s post-trip-hop, sample heavy atmospherics aren’t quite like anyone else out there, and whatever he and Sankt Otten would go on to do, Eine Kleine Traurigkeit (which means “A Small Sadness”) marked a solid, promising beginning.