There is significantly more to German instrumental band Couch than its unfortunately staid moniker might at first suggest.
This is the group’s fourth full-length release, its second on Matador in the United States. Like its 1999 predecessor Fantasy, Profane finds Couch looking to post-rock Chicago for a measure of its inspiration, at the same time as it draws on an earlier, home-grown tradition of sonic experimentation by the likes of Can, Faust, and Neu!
For the most part on Profane, Couch crafts textured, cerebral pieces that — in the spirit of its influences — depart considerably from the established conventions of the “rock song”. And fortunately, although Couch’s material is wholly instrumental, the band generally doesn’t commit the sins of tediousness and self-indulgence that have marred the vocal-free recordings of some of their fellow post-rock/experimental travelers.
Much of Profane is grounded in the solid, frequently mechanical rhythmic patterns laid down by bassist Michael Heilrath and drummer Thomas Geltinger. With the addition of minimal guitar and keyboard melodies courtesy of Jürgen Söder and Stefanie Böhm respectively, the arrangements incrementally build, their components often coalescing into a lulling, hypnotic groove.
In places, the edges of Couch’s sound are knowingly frayed, subtly disrupting the general air of smoothness. This is particularly audible on tracks like “Plan”, which centers on slightly distorted drum beats and sparse, chiming keyboards. A sheen of distortion also envelopes the markedly heavier percussion on “Alle Auf Pause”, whose melodic line, quite randomly, is a dead ringer for Ride’s “Mary Anne”.
Profane‘s strongest, most engaging numbers are those on which Couch allows its Krautrock roots to show more clearly. The affectless, pulsing percussion of “Was Alles Hält”, for instance, recalls some of the finer moments of Neu! and Can. With its propulsive bass and repeating keyboard patterns, and its rising intensity, “Kurzer Punkt” evokes similar source material, albeit as it has been re-imagined by Stereolab. Owing to its foregrounded guitar, this is perhaps the closest Couch comes to a traditional rock sound on Profane.
While the mildly jazz-inflected numbers like “Farbe” account for the least interesting interludes on Profane, the album’s Achilles’ heel can be found on the overly long “Doch Endlich”. Here, rather than mesmerizing, the proceedings are merely repetitive and Couch becomes pedestrian and unimaginative in a Mogwai-at-their-worst kind of way.
That said, Profane is an excellent record. It might not turn the band into a household name, but it proves that they’re infinitely more lively than their mundane household namesake.