Two Sides begins with four minutes of spoken German. I can’t speak German, so I have no idea what the parties are saying. If I had to guess I would probably say that the dialogue is some sort of personal statement on the part of Herr Heiko Voss, for whom Two Sides undoubtedly represents a committed personal statement. It’s just not a very focused statement.
Although Kompakt distributes German label Firm’s output, don’t be fooled into thinking Heiko Voss is a plinkety-plonk techno artist. Voss has some electronic tricks in his bag but he’s just as likely to pull out an acoustic guitar or a schmaltzy Vegas-style mini-orchestra as a boompty-boomp beat. Quite frankly, this album is so diverse that to refer to it as “all over the map” would be an insult to the map—this is all over the hemisphere.
After the talking, the album kicks off like a Prince cover of “World in My Eyes”, as weird (or not) as that may sound. “Beatmachine” showcases Voss’ off-kilter English vocals over a lazy synthpop rhythm that barely registers above languid—I don’t know if he’s really serious about “[making] your body boogie”, because this track barely registers above a Charleston. (It doesn’t help that he pronounces “boogie” like he’s a ghost, with an elongated first syllable that sounds like he’s trying to say “booger”.)
It improves slightly with “Call Me Now”, which has an ominous, well-defined bassline and spry beat that finally begins to make good on the promise to boogie. It reminds me slightly of Richard Davis, albeit with less of an appealingly frosty vibe. “More Than Music” appears to be an attempt at hip-hop that comes off like U2’s “Numb” as performed by Dieter from Sprockets. To say that his funky come-ons are unconvincing would be a grave understatement.
And then the album swerves 180 degrees to the land of pastoral acoustic pop, with “Like Glue”. It’s a bit like jumping into a bitterly cold pool after sitting in a hot tub for any length of time—certainly a bracing dichotomy, but not entirely pleasant. The lyrics could probably best be described as poor, in any event: “I’d like to be close to you, / I’d love to be close to you, / Oh, I’m sticking with you like glue.” Repeat that with minor variations for the better part of three minutes. And then we’ve got another mid-tempo wannabe-Prince funk jam in the form of “Sitting in My Song”.
This same pattern is repeated throughout the album, regardless of however bizarre the genre-hopping seems to the listener. “Think About You (First Version)” even features Voss’ voice chopped & screwed—slowed down—to match a generic disco-type beat. Just odd. The closest the album comes to gaining momentum is on strange tracks like “A Track Called Catarina”, which embrace Voss’ multi-generic impulses to create something which, if not legitimately good, is at least mildly interesting.
As such, I can’t say there aren’t a few interesting ideas floating around on Two Sides—the guitar rhythm on “Part of My World” is appealingly chunky and funky, “Telephon” is a fairly ingenious pastiche of mid-era Depeche Mode—but the album is so diverse, and so woefully underdeveloped, that the few good ideas have no room to develop surrounded at every side by the bad, the misguided or just plain strange. I understand the urge to be eclectic and wide-ranging, but most artists who manage to pull off diversity have the concentration necessary to devote enough attention to every element. There’s not a track on Two Sides that doesn’t taste like it should have been left in the oven another 10 minutes or so.
// Notes from the Road
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