Ambient worlds of the scope crafted by German producer Wolfgang Voigt for his long-inactive Gas project are rare to behold, and rarer still to find a meaningful connection with. There were 17 years of latent space between the Gas albums Pop and Narkopop, and yet even after that long period of aeration, the latter’s 2017 release wasn’t nearly so far removed from the lush, indelible sonic environments of Voigt’s past efforts as expected. Voigt has always had a talent for making ambient music, which from many artists can seem cold and detached, feel intimate. Narkopop was a beautiful culmination of that skill to make abstract realms personal.
The release of Rausch, only a year after Narkopop, now feels almost sudden. The new record, the title of which is German for “intoxication”, evolves out of its predecessor in unexpected ways. Narkopop surged with a caustic thrum, the energy of a long-dormant project revived with renewed purpose. It was reflective and meticulous. In contrast, Rausch, true to its name, feels like the muddled music of a lost soul navigating the chaos of wild undergrowth. Its drowsy drones and off-key scrambling sound like furtive lurches into the void, and the fleeting moments braced by locked-in rhythms like the short-lived euphoria that comes from fully embracing self-destruction. It’s just as dense as its predecessor, but less contemplative and more instinctive, more brutal and crude. Whereas Narkopop gestured toward pensive promise, Rausch hums with a sinister spirit.
The opening strains of Narkopop oscillated infinitely through a range of chords and timbres, like a rich, swirling smoke rising from the earth. Rausch, meanwhile, is immediately marked by a more oppressive atmosphere and a malnourished compositional style, a weight that gradually bears down over the album’s runtime. It opens with a single-chord drone crescendoing through rainfall, more monolithic and unmoveable than even the slower works of Voigt’s past. It also feels so much more conventionally musical; you can pick through Rausch and pull out the clarinets, trumpets, and ride cymbals in a way that was impossible for most of Narkopop. The result is a loss of the Voigt’s ambiguous, dreamy imagination as he turns ominously toward darkness and more standardized textures.
Rausch is specifically crafted to be listened to in one sitting, and it’s understandable why. There are no cuts or fades, and fitting with the slow-to-evolve dynamic of the album, it’s held together by a network of musical structures that act subtly as motifs. In “Rausch 6”, for instance, a sentimental string section that recalls a similar segment of “Rausch 3” swells in over a dark and churning low-end drone implanted from “Rausch 4”. The album itself is cyclical, with the closing section, “Rausch 7”, reflecting key elements of the rest of the album: horns bellowing around amorphous drones, a return of the menacing, discordant refrain that exists in a quieter, more tepid form elsewhere (first on “Rausch 2”), and, of course, a continuation of the incessant throbbing kick that pulses in and out throughout the record.
Against the relatively hopeful tone of its predecessor, the kind of statis exhibited on Rausch is far more representative of the universal plague of pessimism that seems to have marked the years since Pop, but Voigt loses something in the transition: the essential nuance that made Narkopop so effortlessly immersive. With repeated listens, you can feel that sense of scale reemerging from Rausch, but not to the degree that it perhaps should. Part of it feels like Voigt intentionally dangling that satisfaction a few inches from the listener’s face, but intentional or not, the effect is that of a more homogenized — and therefore less personal — sound.
Highs and lows aside, Rausch is a marvel, and one of the most engrossing listens in 2018 so far. The richness of previous Gas releases is there, if hidden, and not quite as intimate. By “Rausch 5”, the 4/4 kick morphs into the propulsive rhythm of industrial machinery as brass, woodwinds, and violins trade grim exclamations; soon after, a plucked string instrument accompanies with dainty noodling. This is the album’s most involved section, an almighty glimpse through the fog. It’s music that lives in the liminal spaces and speaks to all the joy and terror that one can find at the boundaries of oneself. But it doesn’t last. All the while, the throbbing pulse—quarter notes in time—continues its oppressive march, as it always has and always will.