One-man band Binder & Krieglstein doesn’t fit well in the stereotypical contemporary Austrian music scene. He’s no Kruder & Dorfmeister or Dzihan & Kamien. (Catch a trend here in naming? Ever the jokester, B&K punned on his own hyphenated last name to sound more mainstream.) Still, his knowledge of the happenings in pop and electronic is particularly keen, as he shows by riffing on everything in his satiric debut on Essay Recordings.
An ironic post-modern reflection of recent Viennese musical history, Alles Verloren (All Is Lost) initially sounds a bit wanky. An oompah rhythm as opener, an electronic polka of sorts, alludes to clichés about long-past Austrian culture. Visions of Heidi dancing about in her dirndl, a lederhosened companion twirling at her side came into my head. The beats on these opening songs, including both “Raupe” and “Piraten” along with the title track, are updated, with simple keyboard beats and loops reminiscent of the ‘80s. They return to the time when the synth-pop superstar Falco gave Vienna a touch of fame. The lyrics, however, respond to something more contemporary.
This is where the problem with the CD lies: essentially, this is a musical comedy. To understand the genius in this variable trash-pop compilation requires an understanding of the lyrics, many of which are spoken in German and contain some seriously dry wit. Take “Alles Verloren” as an example; a rough, filtered disembodied voice catalogues his bad day, which begins with the loss of his keys, his socks and mobile phone, and continues by his forgetting his wife’s birthday and finding his Chevy damaged. It’s a song similar in style, though not in melody, to The Pharcyde’s “Oh Shit!” The cultural artifacts listed clearly respond to the hip-hop and beat box “black music” presently popular in Austria and Germany, though the tone with which they’re recited suggests the artist’s different interpretation on materialism and poverty than, say, the still uber-trendy 50 Cent or German hero Bushido. Instead of finding redemption through wealth, the artist seems to be looking for validation of a middle-class mental impoverishment.
A high shaky voice comes to the rescue, offering this choral advice to remember (which, the singer notes, requires the translation program Babelfish in order to understand the language): “You are not your keys / you are not your shoes …”. The sage continues with a repetition of how you are not everything you’ve lost, some of which is more philosophical—“You are not your day planner / You are not your job”. He concludes by telling the troubled man to find himself. The humor gets lost in the idiosyncrasies of translation here, and remains entirely opaque to those without German-speaking abilities. That’s unfortunate because the lyrics here are what redeems the music, which otherwise tends toward the cheesy.
A song that may be better understood with English-speaking audiences is the anthem “Drink All Day”, though here the genius is lacking. The lyrics are a senseless ode to—you guessed it—drinking all day, and the synthetic voice reciting them is filtered, its high pitch grating. Jokes may still abound (this time in English), but after a minute, the repetitious chorus gets overwhelming.
As the CD progresses, the songs grow more quirky, though not more inviting. The lo-fi attributes maintain a mix of accordions with German-style hip-hop. The result is a sound like a youthful Eminem crashing a polka party and bringing Moby along. Its quirkiness, of course, makes “Alles Verloren” a nice soundtrack for a humorous night out. Just don’t confuse the stylings with the other Austrian electronic artists on the scene. This trash-pop fits in better with the others on Essay Recordings, like the superior Balkan Beat Box or funky Shantel, than any of the local downtempo kings.