[15 March 2010]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Who says electronic acts can’t grow and prosper into middle age? Copenhagen’s Anders Remmer has been recording as Dub Tractor for over 15 years. Sorry, his sixth full-length album, is arguably a career high. While he’s always blurred the lines between acoustic, electric, and electronic instrumentation, Sorry is infused with a new warmth. It certainly sounds more organic than 2006’s Hideout, which at times literally faded far, far into the background. Maybe it’s the focus on Remmer’s vocals and lyrics. Maybe it’s the more overt acknowledgement of the influence of “shoegazer” music from the 1990s. Maybe it’s the songwriting. Whatever the reason, Sorry is much more difficult to ignore, and much more enticing to listen to. Repeatedly.
Remmer’s basic method hasn’t really changed. Slow-moving, reverb-drenched swells of sound gradually saturate the listening space like melting ice floes. Acoustic and electric guitars and electric bass are manipulated to sound like synthesizers. Here are the shoegazer references, a new selling point based on that little genre’s recent resurgence. But then Remmer adds more synthesizers, and uses dub effects and scratchy, punchy, glitchy rhythms. In a sense, this is the union with electronica that shoegaze was heading toward before it just kind of faded out.
Throughout, the relationship between the instrumentation and the songs it serves is seamless, almost telepathic. Sorry is rooted more in songcraft than Dub Tractor has ever been. The best example comes first. Opener and lead single “And You Are Back” is a nostalgic, melancholic overflow of sadness and beauty, breathtaking in its poignancy. And that’s before you realize the song is about death. Indeed, the album centers on themes of failed relationships, romantic or otherwise, and the desire to understand them. On the title track, Remmer can get out only two words, “Sorry girl…”, before trailing off and letting the music say the rest. And the stuttering electronic rhythm, heavily treated acoustic guitars, and ripples of reverb have a story to tell. Elsewhere, song titles like “It All Went Wrong”, “That Won’t Heal by Itself”, and “I Don’t Get It Anymore” give you an idea of Remmer’s state of mind. On “Fall in Love Like This”, he describes attaining love in a series of second-person instructions, and the best you can hope for is to “seem much less bewildered”.
While this may all sound sad, it’s never despondent. That’s due in part to the shelter of the music. “It All Went Wrong”, for example, has a full-on dub rhythm, with a rumbling bassline that’s much too menacing to be blue. And “That Won’t Heal by Itself”, with its gently strummed guitar and sympathetic glockenspiel notes complementing Remmer’s quiet, familiar voice, is so pretty as to be comforting. In the end, Remmer at least takes solace in the fact that “This is order…this is something we don’t choose”. It’s not exactly liberation, but it’s at least a sign that acceptance may be forthcoming. Herein lies Sorry‘s emotional pull. When you’re beat down, you don’t always want to be lifted back up high. This music lets you wallow without becoming pathetic.
Yet, Sorry may wallow a bit too much for some. Yes, Remmer focuses more on traditional “songs”, but all of these songs are constructed similarly. What it lacks in dynamics, the album makes up for in texture, but that texture can be slow to reveal itself. Until that happens, it does all sound a bit the same. Also, Remmer still tends to sing in mantra-like phrases, which adds to the impression you’re listening to variations on a theme. When you’re sunken into the midst of Sorry, though, none of that matters. And you can always just hit “And You Are Back” one more time. Yes, middle age can be prosperous for one-man bedroom bands. No, Remmer hasn’t changed his ways. But he certainly has improved them.