There’s something terribly German about this record. There are the obvious signs, like the album title (which translates as the suitably mundane “circuit busses”, or thereabouts), and more opaque ones, such as the name this trio of electronic producers, technicians and label owners have taken for themselves; it refers to the appropriately-East-Blocly-monikered Berlin studio where these improvised sessions were recorded over the last five years. Not to say that this album is the result of five years’ non-stop improvising, as that would be pushing the Teutonic endurance gag a bit far, but there is an deep certainty, if not determination, behind 17-minute album centrepiece “Ruhleben”‘s gradual unfolding. This sense of patient focus, of content studiousness, is present throughout, and with a 76:58 running time the trio have efficiently squeezed every last drop out of presentation time from the cd medium, even if they were uncharacteristically laid back about putting it on silicon in the first place.
With the tracks probably named after Berlin bus stops—there’s the “Heidelberger Platz”, the “Zitadelle” and the “Zoologische Garten”, although none of the tracks feel as defined or as precisely evocative as that—you’re left knowing that the music within will either be a riot of personality, colour and motion from a rather formal group of guys who aren’t much good at titles, or else a collection of creations that show as few signs as possible of actual human presence; the artificial bus moving on its predefined route of dead tarmac, not unfriendly, but not involved, either. No prizes for guessing which it is. Where bands like Lali Puna or The Notwist create songs that possess an intrinsically German studied disdain about them, creating a cool, disrespectfully fractured sound they toy with as a delivery vessel for real emotion, Studio Pankow’s faceless flux is rooted in the presence of sound as divorced from any human source, and as such might be taken for a moodier, jazzier update of Kraftwerk’s framework of conceptualised absence. The latter would doubtless be very pleased to discover that the album is actually dedicated to a synthesiser, namely the “mighty” Nord Modular, which is employed on almost all the tracks here.
However, though the compositions are entirely instrumental and seemingly lack any need to articulate anything beyond their own existence, they are far from cold; we’re much closer to the pulsing infinities of techno dub pioneers, and fellow Berliners, Basic Channel. Encased within a meticulous fascination for sound detail, the tracks retain a soft shimmer about them and flow fairly freely, so they’re not airless—it’s just that the grooves change only at the rate of an ocean current, albeit pleasantly. There’s an air of mundane comfort here that evokes watching dust motes wander within a ray of light on a lazy Sunday afternoon, only with a magnifying glass, in slow motion. With a preponderance of six-minute-plus tracks it’s a fair bet that Source label-head Moufang and his two collaborators have more patience than you, though, which makes “Jungfernheide” stand out all the more; a cat’s cradle of a circular bass groove fatter than hippo cellulite that sloughs off breaker chimes before attaining meditative beauty. Abstract funk has rarely seemed more natural or catchy and the cut would be just as at home on Stefan “pole” Kotke’s ~scape as Andrea Parker’s Touchin’ Bass, so although the steam-washed 11 minutes of the next track are tactile and welcoming, you still wish that the trio could have kept things as concise and, well, fun for more of that mammoth running time.
A meticulously composed album, Linienbusse challenges you as much with what it doesn’t do as with what it does, rewarding extended listening with beauty and satisfaction in steady increments. Calm music that goes for the heart via the head; there’s something terribly German about that. And I should know.