Ostensibly a grand experiment, Faust's latest is just another pretentious excuse to avoid the most difficult step in all art: finishing it.
So little is as frustrating as an unfulfilled promise. Artists might have their reasons for subverting audience expectations but even at the best of times they must be aware that their readers, their viewers or their listeners can never be wholly satisfied with an experience that charted a clear trajectory only to bring them at last to a location wholly alien to the one they'd been pointed towards. Not even the most eloquent explanation can account for the fact that a kind of contract was broken and that even the most receptive of audience members will still be left feeling somehow slighted. This isn't always a bad thing -- the predictable can be frustrating for the opposite reasons (we might have hoped in fact to be flummoxed, to be baffled) and if we were ever to find that one piece of perfect art, the one that left us wholly fulfilled, it's unlikely we'd ever move on from it -- but it is infuriating all the same.
What is worse, though, is when the artists venture to offer a justification that smacks not only of pretense but also of laziness. As soon as a creator begins to speak of the abstract philosophies -- of "offering spaces," of "being ahead of their time" -- behind their work there's no doubt that they're as aware of the problems as any acute listener would be. What ancient kraut-rockers Faust mean when they offer that their latest album j US t (pronounced "just us") sounds so empty, so spaced out, because they are "inviting the whole world to use (it) as a base to build their own music on," it's not impossible (it's not even hard) to hear instead what they were saying to each other on the cutting-floor: "Let's just get this over with. We're all sick of it."
This isn't immediately obvious. Early on there are promises of something larger. The band make it easy to pick out suggestive leitmotifs that seem to be minor weaves in a larger sonic tapestry. The low hum that kicks off opener "Gerubelt" will pop-up again and again throughout the album, from "80hz" to "Palpitations", each time lingering in the background and building only just enough, never so much as to be distracting but always quiet enough to prove worrisome. There's a back-and-forth effect at work in "Sur la Ventre", a slight struggle between the vocals and the rhythm and the melody, each one replacing the other in prominence (or entirely) for seconds at a time only to then be overtaken by another element, that is expressed again and again on the album, most notably of all on "Der Kaffee Kocht", where it takes on the very literal form of a saw moving left and right and then left again. Musically unconventional noises -- the clank of a pipe against another pipe, the sound of a rotor coming to rest, the chime of what sounds like a low-grade doorbell-- appear in one song for an instant, vanish, and pop up over again on another side of the album without so much as a warning. There's a sense of design at work throughout and one that compliments the album at its best, when the band is focusing more on harmony than on rhythm.There's nothing necessarily commanding about the instrumentation -- often it blends into the background, becomes little more than ambient noise -- but in some ways that's welcome: Jean-Hervé Péron and Werner Diermaier are masters at nudging a listener along with suggestions so that, when a major transition in the song comes (the sudden but welcome silence at 2 minutes into "Gammes", the strings that creep up and then stay there, on the sidelines, in "Nahmaschine"), it's nearly unnoticeable. It compels by gentle readjustment, not by force, and while too subtle to really register on the ears -- how easy it is to drift while listening to the earlier tracks -- it's pleasant enough. There's a promise that all of this is coming together, that thematic elements aren't incidental and that if the album started off feeling slightly spacey, with instruments often so far apart and so unconnected by conventional musical ideas, that it would eventually cohere. It feels as though wherever Faust is taking you they can be trusted.
As it would turn out, though, Faust has very little idea where they're taking anyone. Halfway through "Nur Nouse" it becomes evident that the band isn't going to realize anything with the track and that the various musical forms at play aren't going to combine for any great effect.The song ends by dissolving into a series of random sound-effects and furtive, discordant movement across a piano, all of which sounds like nothing so much as the soundtrack to a cheap, old horror movie. This kind of infantile, art-school experimentation persists, even dominates, from then on. "Palpitations" is a nearly empty sonic space, populated only by a low motor purr, what sounds like someone clapping cups together and, for the finale, an organ. Again, it's as if a desperate student took the task of evoking a dark, dangerous cathedral too literally, only instead of approaching it as a maximalist might and overloading the listener with the most obvious musical cues he approached it as a minimalist, confident that any kind of real music would detract from rather than heighten the tension.
By this point in the album it's as if the members suddenly got sick of doing the heavy lifting for the listener and decided that it was not on them but their audience to put this album together. Songs fade into the background not because they are gentle and inoffensive but because they have nothing to offer. Numerous musical devices -- such as the sudden and wheezy wail of a singer in "Ich Bin Ein Pavian" -- seem engineered to shock awake anyone who might have nodded off but they're so obviously intended to do this that it feels intrusive rather than focusing: including an element in your work that foresees the listener nodding off and is intended to prevent exactly that should signal that there's something wrong with the composition, not with the audience.
There's an attempt to reconcile this at the end with "Ich Sitze Immer Noch", but it's not enough: one song cannot deliver on the earlier promises of the album, can't bring all of these disparate motifs and cannot close the gap between such distantly spaced instruments. What seemed deliberate before at the album's opening seems by the middle to be an interesting conceit that was abandoned because Faust didn't know how to pull it off and is known by the end to be exactly that. Pawning the real work off on the audience and laying the blame on those who didn't enjoy their music by explaining away that they never accepted Faust's "invitation to make music," isn't an honest artistic mode but the product of contempt and sloth. It's not just a bad way to make fans; it's a terrible way to make music.