[16 January 2003]
Okay, will somebody please tell me what the fuck the name of this band is? The album cover says Terranova, but the press release says Edition Terranova. The liner notes say things like, “Terranova is published by Edition Terranova”, and then list the band’s email address as “[email protected]”. This is a band that is not well-loved by its PR people.
But who cares about a name anyway, right? The important thing is the music, and Terranova (as I’ll call them from here on out, just because it’s easier to type) bring the same mischievous, shape-shifting attitude to their sound, with far better results. Hitchhiking Nonstop (as I’ll call the album from here on out, ‘cuz it’s easier to type) is a dense, challenging, hard-to-pin-down little bastard of a disc, but it’s crammed with more interesting sounds than most bands put together in their entire careers.
The press release identifies Terranova’s influences as “hip-hop, Detroit techno and punk rock”, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg; you can also hear heavy doses of synth pop, dub, nu skool breaks and lots of other stuff that had me digging pretentiously through my critic’s vocab bag. Usually this sort of reckless genre hopping makes for smugly happy music critics and shitty, unlistenable music, but in Terranova’s case, most of it actually works. Credit the fact that the three guys in the group—who call themselves, I swear, Mastermind Fetisch, Meister, and Shapemod—also run a popular dance club in Berlin called Pogo. They know that, at the end of the day, no amount of cleverness can help you if you don’t have a memorable hook and a keen sense of groove, and Hitchhiking Nonstop has plenty of both.
The album starts off sounding suspiciously like yet another attempt to cash in on last year’s most overhyped dance music craze, electro-clash, as the album opener “Breathe” comes on with vocoders and stuttering drum machines blazing. But then, at the part where some zombie vixen should ironically intone some lines about how bored she is with cocaine and sex in club bathrooms, Terranova instead brings in an eerie, wailing chorus straight out of Dead Can Dance, and you realize that these guys have a lot more going on than the latest Ms. Kitten single.
Sure enough, on the next track, “Sublime”, these wacky Germans throw in a killer rap by New York spoken word artist Mike Ladd. The arrangement still leans heavily on techno/synth-pop blips and bleeps, but the vibe is pure hip-hop, with lots of snappy snares and a tricky bassline. Ladd returns somewhat less successfully on “Heroes”, though it’s not really Terranova’s fault—“Heroes” is actually a much more convincing straight-up hip-hop track, held together by a rock-solid backbeat and a beautiful curlicue of a guitar line. Ladd’s lines here are just a little too preachy and prosaic, e.g. “Heroes are the ones who still give a fuck”, which just doesn’t have the same quirky light touch as his mocking riff on the standard bling-bling blather of conventional hip-hop (or electro-clash, for that matter) that highlights “Sublime”: “We can do some pink cocaine / In the wrong place at the right time, okay?”
Terranova have a great ear for guest vocalists. They also bring in punk rock diva Ari-Up from the Slits, whose mix of Rasta-style toasting and banshee wailing make the edgy breaks of “Mongril” and “Equal Rights” somehow exhilarating, harrowing and grating all at once. Cath Coffey of the Stereo MC’s is the voice behind both the robotic vocoders and the sexy moans and sighs on “Breathe” and “Aht Uh Mi Hed”, an unrecognizable cover of Shuggie Otis’ “Out of My Head”; her vocals are key in elevating both tracks above mere rehashes of early ‘80s synth-pop, though the fascinating ways Terranova chop up and distort her bedroom purrs help a lot, too.
But Terranova do just fine without noteworthy guests, too, thank you very much. Largely instrumental tracks like the galloping synth rocker “Fun Gallery” and the thrillingly messy collision of nu skool breaks, Detroit techno and underground hip-hop that is “Concepts” work just as well, if not better, than anything else on the album. Also outstanding is the Massive Attack-like mood piece “Hell”, which comes to closer than anything on the album to being pretty, but still injects its melancholy organ riffs and pretty female vocals with enough grit to keep up the same post-millennial tension that permeates the entire album.
The only two tracks that really don’t quite come together are a cover of Bob Marley’s “Running Away” that features a sample from Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” (with elements like that, how could it come together?) and a song that suffers from the same split personality disorder as Terranova/Edition Terranova, called “Women Beat Their Men” and “Angie (O.S.T.)” on different versions of the album. It’s an interesting foray into hardcore breaks, but unlike most of the tracks on Hitchhiking Nonstop, it doesn’t reveal anything new on repeated listens.
Terranova wait till their final track to really let their punk rock roots show, letting rip with a galloping guitar onslaught on “Goodbye the Ferrari”. It seems like an unlikely way to end an album that’s mostly synths and drum machines, but somehow it works. Terranova’s approach cops punk rock’s aesthetics throughout Hitchhiking Nonstop, in the way they irreverently mash styles together and give all their densely layered sounds an intentionally loose, unpolished feel. There’s a messy, organic quality to the music that’s all too often lacking in electronica; it’s like listening to the human and synthetic elements slam into each other at high speed and mash into something new. I’m sure someone else will coin a new genre term for it eventually; in the meantime, let’s just say that whatever the hell you want to call them, or their music, Terranova are on to something good.