Tiefschwarz: Chocolate

The first album in five years from the German house duo finds them in a minimal mood, with a few wrinkles.



Label: Souvenir
US Release Date: 2010-06-15
UK Release Date: 2010-06-14

For most, the word "chocolate" probably implies rich candy, warm cocoa, and schmaltzy Johnny Depp movies. For Berliners Ali and Basti Schwarz, however, it implies something else. Something decidedly less sweet and more calculating. This Chocolate, the brothers' third under the Tiefschwarz name, is of the dark kind most preferred by connoisseurs. That's not to say it's downbeat. Rather, it's complex and machine-driven. You might expect a dancefloor-friendly album from this duo that made their name with cool electro house, and Chocolate is. On occasion, it even manages to be something more.

Following a five-year break, Chocolate finds Tiefschwarz on their own Souvenir label and with a slightly-modified sound that favors a slightly broader palate. Most of this could fall under the general "minimal" or "deep" house umbrellas, but there's really quite a bit going on. The standard protocol for veteran techno acts looking for a bit of new blood is to tap an array of hip "guest" artists and vocalists, who then proceed to overwhelm the album. Thankfully, Tiefschwarz have not taken this tact. They have hired a producer, Philipp Maier, and they do employ a few guests, but in supporting roles that don't stop the album feeling of a piece.

The single, "Home", moves along on a seductive, back-alley bassline. Newcomer Daniel Wilde's moody vocals recall the late Billy Mackenzie. They're emotive but not particularly melodic, which lends to a bit of a trip-hop feel. Not bad at all, if a bit pedestrian. On "I Can't Resist", American Dave Aju helps lend Chocolate whatever sexiness it has. "The voodoo…that you do", intone chanting voices that sound straight out of an old Southern spiritual. Then come some soulful lines like "My soul is smokin'/For you". Tiefschwarz's precision really pays off here, the slinky beat and xylophone-like effects providing a seductive backdrop. The controlled sonic environment results in some genuinely smoky tension.

Berlin-via-Detroit transplant Seth Troxler helps Tiefschwarz break out of their traditional mold with a new version of "Trust", originally released as a single in 2009. Imagine late-70s-era Prince fronting drunken boho jazzy band a'la mid-period Tom Waits. It's off-kilter, for sure, with a wobbly viola riff and start-stop waltz-time rhythm, but it arguably leaves Chocolate's most lasting impression. It's almost too bad Tiefschwarz don't feel compelled to push the boundaries a bit more often. "Bon Voyage" is a tense, subtle, piano-led interlude that evokes a lost John Carpenter soundtrack.

The majority of Chocolate's 16 tracks, though, stick to a 4/4 template that neither offends nor surprises. The best of these is "Legends", which again works the tension with a nervous keyboard arpeggio, a disembodied voice repeating the title, and a whiplash-inducing beat that hits you a couple minutes in. The track also manages to use a flute riff in a non-embarrassing manner. Tracks like "Stones" and "Accordage" again get the rhythms going, but seem content to drop in random bits of effects and occasional tribal sounds, rather than truly engage.

Chocolate does have one obvious black eye. That would be "The Whistler", a quirky double-time track that tries to invoke a whimsical jump-jazz feel. And it relies on, yes, whistling. Or, rather, a looped whistling sound that's run through reverb for good measure and goes on long after it's maxed out any novelty value. Really, for this sort of thing, I'll take Moby's "Run", please.

So if Chocolate isn't exactly a treat, it probably wasn't meant to be. At this point in their careers, Tiefschwarz aren't trying to re-invent house, or themselves. That they mix things up a little bit while remaining true to their vision should be satisfying for most fans, even if it doesn't win them a ton of new ones.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.