Jonas Reinhardt: Jonas Reinhardt

Bill Stewart

Reinhardt's debut marries the subtle development of ambient music with bite-sized pop song lengths, creating a mirror of an album, one that reflects back exactly what the listener puts into it -- no more and no less.

Jonas Reinhardt

Jonas Reinhardt

Label: Kranky
UK Release Date: 2008-11-03
US Release Date: 2008-11-11

My iTunes genre tag for Jonas Reinhardt's self-titled debut pompously insists on referring to the album as "Unclassifiable", and you know what? I partially agree with it. Sure, there are plenty of points of reference that can be tossed around in a discussion of Reinhardt -- ambient, Krautrock, Vangelis (try not to think of Blade Runner when you hear those distended synth leads) -- but can this album comfortably share shelf space with any one in particular? No. Which isn't to imply that Reinhardt is without debt to the past -- it's just that he fuses together his various influences so seamlessly that you end up with a refreshingly unique album. An excellent, consistently rewarding album? Not exactly. But a unique one? Without question.

Look at the early standout "How to Adjust People": the track employs a string-like synth line that wouldn't be out of place on some late-'70s prog album (or, to use a more contemporary reference, a Black Mountain song) and a filtered drum machine as its primary implements. But, with those two defining elements in place, Reinhardt fills in all negative space with layer upon layer of sweeping electronic texture. And instead of making the track feel claustrophobic or needlessly dense, the layers of supporting ambience have the effect of fusing together the two lead elements to form an organic whole -- which is something of an achievement for music made almost entirely with analog synths.

The at times staggering density of Reinhardt's work is probably what accounts for each of these tracks' -- for all their avant-garde conceits -- conventional pop song length. Things usually remain within the area of four minutes, which is odd for music whose ceaseless repetition and leisurely development approaches ambient levels. In comparison to these nearly static song structures, Reinhardt's labelmate Atlas Sound (the post-rock mouthpiece of Deerhunter vocalist Bradford Cox), whose music would be deliberate and reflective in any other context, comes off like an exercise in drugged-up prog rock excess.

That's the flaw with Reinhardt's album: this music is often too subtle for its own good. And, more importantly, its refusal to be pigeonholed into any particular genre of popular music actually works against it. While the hypnotically repeating motifs that form the backbone of this album suggest ambient-era Eno, the drum machines -- flat and heavily treated though they are -- keep things a bit too lively for the music to become aural wallpaper. Likewise, elements such as the sawtooth lead of "Tentshow" and the intermittent guitar textures of "Crept Idea for Mom" are the opposite of soothing. But treat this album as a collection of actual songs rather than a collection of ambient soundscapes, and you're likely going to be struck by something that seems, well, static and dull.

Of course, it reveals itself to be dynamic -- but only if you're willing to give it the more exacting focus it wants but doesn't, on the surface, appear to deserve. What we have here is a portal to a complex, cavernous undersea structure, but a portal that masquerades as a shallow puddle. It doesn't do a hell of a lot to make you want to examine it, but those who do are in for a fairly rewarding experience. Is Jonas Reinhardt successful as a piece of unique art? Absolutely. Is it successful as an album? To be honest, just barely.


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

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

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

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