A step forward, whilst glancing backwards, on Ulrich Schnauss’ new album.
In the week that has seen fellow German electronica pioneers Kraftwerk play their eight albums across eight nights in the wondrous surroundings of the Tate Modern in London, and a new album from My Bloody Valentine the band that give shoegaze its name, it is highly appropriate that the new Ulrich Schnauss album finally arrives after a six-year wait.
Schnauss has lately been busy working in collaboration with other artists, Jonas Monk of Danish electronica band Manual and Mark Peters form Engineers predominately, but he has consistently pushed at the boundaries of electronic music and sought to add elements of the shoegaze aesthetic whether that be into his work, in collaboration with others or as an in demand producer/remixer for others.
It is this continual experimentation and refusal to be bound by the strictures of what electronic music should be that has provided Schnauss with such a wide fan base and I’ve been witness to his almost religious like live performances, stood in amongst electronic, indie and hip hop fans all kneeling, well dancing, at the alter of Ulrich.
I first came across Schnauss on his first release Far Away Trains Passing By and was instantly taken with the melody of the music but also the punchy, driving beats that infused and gave the album a different layer and texture to other electronic music of the day, tracks like “Knuddlemaus” and “As If You’ve Never Been Away” spring to mind.
And it this album that A Long Way to Fall reminds me of. There is much less of the reverb that has marked Schnauss’ work of the last few years and more ‘space’ in which the music and the instruments are allowed to speak and work together. There is propulsion in the music, a sense of a new journey, the same feeling I had with Far Away Trains Passing By. As Schnauss himself has said ‘I was now rediscovering my love for electronic music based on more open structures. This provided the main inspiration of trying to record an album that would celebrate the synthesizer as the very capable musical instrument that it is, but without the need to disguise it behind a wall of echo and reverb.’
Opener “Her and the Sea” has a long tonal pulse and a whispered vocal which builds a rhythm, this sense of movement, always just holding back, never fully letting go and maintaining a tension, I keep expecting the song to explode. But it doesn’t, instead it segues into “Broken Homes” which starts with a warm fuzzy synth and mixes an undercurrent of darkness pierced with shafts of bright, light notes and drum patterns against reversed vocals. What is Schnauss trying to tell us here? There is no answer forthcoming in this track, instead it arrives in “Like a Ghost in Your Own Light”, an uplifting track, the protagonist of “Broken Homes” has broken free.
There is a sense here that Schnauss is toying with our emotions, the song titles point to some of this “I Take Comfort in Your Ignorance”, “A Forgotten Birthday”, “Borrowed Time” and “A Ritual in Time and Death” to name just a few. But then you listen to a track such as “The Weight of Darkening Skies” and it is almost Jean Michel Jarre like, incredibly beautiful synths, a huge rocking drum beat and this sense of massive optimism fills the room. A glorious track and an album highlight.
There is a feeling a light and dark on this album, but it comes together as an ultimately optimistic album, an album with a narrative running right through it and an album that will at once delight Schnauss’ fans whilst appealing to those who are unfamiliar with his work.
A step back to his roots but ultimately a step forward for electronic music.