What do you call this music? The instructions tell you to “File under electronic”, but it doesn’t seem essentially electronic. Electronic recordings aren’t known for their tubas, and this disc is riddled with the tuba. Well, big horns, anyway. I think there’s a French horn in there, or a euphonium or some other brass instrument that plurps, but, regardless of precisely what it is, electronic music isn’t known for it. Not much for the plurping, is electronic.
It’s too fey and reticent for pop, and too hooky to be simply atmospheric. It’s both light and ponderous. Ponderous, thanks to those earnest tubas and their solemn parping pump, and light thanks to a number of things, chiefly the voices of the two musicians, Marion Dimbath and Nicola Schüpferling, who sing in a tone of unbruised dry plaintiveness. Their voices have the serious demeanour of a child who holds up one hand and says, in a high tone, “Now I am going to tell you something very strange and true and please, I would like you to listen.”
There are ideas in the songs that don’t seem to have been found in the usual electronic places. There’s the slow-kicking village band beat of “Wir Sind Keine Kabarattisten”, which shares its time with a keyboard riff that sounds like the soundtrack to the old electric light parade in Disneyland. The brass rises in a fanfare near the end. This fanfare idea occurs in a number of different places, in “Erkonnen Im Individuum”, for example, where it’s accompanied by a glockenspiel, tapping out a note every time the horn rises. The women’s voices sound plain and robotic between the fanfares.
There’s a kind of fanfare in “Spiel Mir Ein Leid” as well, but it sound less like a village band and more like a pop anthem, a tune for an opening ceremony, commissioned by a government department with a sporting event they want to introduce to the public. The women sing, “Oo-oo-oo” as if this really is an anthem, or a prayer, and then the glockenspiel comes in and performs a dance. A keyboard stays light and plastic behind the glockenspiel. The keyboard has a weightlessness that seems particularly characteristic of continental European pop, an artificial, flossy sound, not like the brassier emotions of pop from the States.
The lightness of the keyboards and the artless voices of Dimbath and Schüpferling frame the heft of the brass, and, at the same time, disarm it. You can’t be seriously roused by horns when they’re hanging out with plastic keyboards and glockenspiels, any more than a middle-aged barrister could compel your respect by sitting in a kindergarten. Harnessed to the pursuit of naiveté, the horns suggest the work of Maher Shalal Hash Baz (whose Osaka Bridge, a collaboration with the Scottish musician Bill Wells, came out on the same label not too long ago), while the keyboards and the playground tone of the music could be second cousins to Finland’s TV-Resistori. The German band is gentler, more introverted, and less vehement, content to wander outdoors among the flower beds while its Finnish relative stays inside banging blocks of lego together.
It’s touching but not really childlike. Children are thoughtful, mucky creatures with more physicality than the wispiness of Wir Sind Blumen allows. They’re curious and practical as well as gullible and easily astonished. What Dimbath and Schüpferling have created is not childhood but a version of it, an honourary childship in the parallel world of adulthood. It’s not winsome—nothing with tubas can ever really be winsome—but noises are introduced into the songs with an unpredictability that suggests a willingness to be surprised. Yet their surprises are harmless frissons, cosily nurtured; there’s nothing to fear here. Wir Sind Blumen is an album that inspires affection. And I still don’t know what it is.
// Notes from the Road
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