Scheuber Autarcique

Scheuber’s ‘Autarcique’ Is Full of Dark Synthwave Delights

Scheuber’s Autarcique is a superb synthwave album infused with equal parts dark dance beats and fine song crafting. The result is beautiful.

23 February 2023

After teasing fans with a handful of singles, Scheuber’s latest full-length Autarcique reveals precisely what those previews hinted at: a superb synthwave album infused with equal parts dark dance beats and fine song-crafting.

Scheuber is the eponymous solo project of Dirk Scheuber, co-founder and former keyboardist with Project Pitchfork, a group tearing up dark electronic dancefloors since 1990. Hailing from Hamburg, Germany, Project Pitchfork have 18 studio albums under their belt and have produced countless dancefloor classics. Scheuber left the band in 2020 to focus on his work, which has proven no less delightful.

Autarcique – autarky – a term from political philosophy denoting a quality of self-sufficiency. It’s a fitting title for a solo album from an artist who is still often associated with his longer-running former band. The record manifests this quality expertly, offering a delicately constructed balance between his Project Pitchfork roots and his solo capacity to push past those limits, to explore and define a sound just for himself, a finely wrought equilibrium that refines and showcases the innate creative qualities he brought to his other musical projects.

Scheuber’s been producing solo material since at least 2016, and Autarcique marks his fifth studio album. As fans might have hoped, it’s a masterpiece of synthpop songwriting. There’s probably never been a bad Project Pitchfork album or a poor Scheuber release. One of the marks of both projects is a tendency toward steady, reliable growth; neither slipping into the trap of repeating past successes such that they become monotonous nor jumping into new styles so erratically as to leave their fans behind.

The new material is exciting and different, but it won’t leave fans with a sense of abandonment. The delicate balance between the new and the familiar helps listeners grow along with the musicians and is one of the elements I appreciated about bands with outputs as prodigious as Project Pitchfork. In his solo work, Scheuber keeps his finger on the tap of what’s current, prodding his music to newer, faster, more expansively creative levels. Let’s dig in.

“3am” opens Autarcique with pianos, percussion gradually sliding in, followed by a gentle synth backing. It’s a fitting opener, an amuse-bouche that gets the muscles twitching for the dancefloor but conveys a sense of restrained energy: the best is yet to come.

Scheuber’s solo work echoes the song patterns of his other group – slow starts rising into grandiose, synth-lined big beat crescendos – but there’s a sense of clever restraint here, a minimalism that’s more a sign of maturity than anything. Scheuber could launch us into the dance-floor climaxes of a Project Pitchfork stomper but doesn’t need to. He’s been there, done that; there’s something more artful, even playful, about Autarcique. Here he shows us not what he can do but what he wants to do, crafting songs that are beautiful in form, intelligent in lyrical content, and all still eminently danceable.

“Cosmic Voids” launches with even heavier beats and swirling synth lines; vocals erupt from the outset; it’s a dancefloor smasher par excellence. The music’s maturity – its ability to depart from past sounds and to produce new material that doesn’t merely echo the old – is equally evident in Scheuber’s vocals. They retain that uniquely low, grating quality immediately recognizable as his but lack the machine-effected menace which characterized some of Project Pitchfork’s best-known songs. There’s a sense of maturity in this, too. The vocals require no adornment, and there’s a warm, reassuring familiarity to them, an intimate quality that expertly complements the tight musical compositions.

“Lotus” opens with grandiose keyboards and driving beats quickly met with querulous vocal harmonies ushering in another dancefloor smasher. There’s an ’80s new wave element to this track, resplendent in its pompous beats and keys, also an echo of the darkness that emerged toward the end of the previous song. “Get Well Soon” is a more eclectic beast, opening with playful organ sounds swept aside by fast percussive rhythms and loud, fat beats. Vocals and music shift in style throughout the track, taking the listener in unexpected directions. It’s not my favorite track, but I appreciate Scheuber’s willingness to experiment and explore the different approaches synthpop songwriting can take.

“Compulsion” opens with a lovely haunting soundscape to which Schueber’s vocals – driven by playful, strutting beats – pair perfectly. A LOT is going on here for the astute listener – myriad layers of beats and rhythms, swirling soundscapes filling in the background, and Scheuber’s steady, confident voice acting as the fulcrum, keeping it all in order and perfect balance. It’s another one for the dancefloors.

“Devoted Souls” is another strutting, playful ’80s-influenced track. “Scorn” is truly a stand-out song. Scheuber’s vocals here possess an extra touch of urgency, edged with the threat. The techno-sampled frame of the song and the fast and heavy electronics that open and close the track are all cleverly constructed. It’s another compelling lure to the dancefloor. “Punctured” keeps the dancefloor pumping, albeit not as creatively as some other tracks. But it gives the listener a breather, a bit of continuity, and an opportunity to slow down and catch their breath in the lead-up to Autarcique‘s finale.

Scheuber chooses to end Autarcique not with another dancefloor hit but with “Solace”, a gorgeous song that opens gently but picks up a compelling beat early on. The track title aptly describes the emotive quality. Scheuber’s voice provides a sense of solace throughout the album. However, the warm and more intimate quality of this song – still danceable, as they all are – provides a fitting sense of closure to a satisfying, infectiously danceable record.

It’s impossible to close a review of a Scheuber release without a note of appreciation for his distinctive voice. It’s a reminder that music does not have to conform to any single pattern or style; there’s a very punk, DIY ethos to the nonchalance with which Scheuber drops vocals without a care in the world for their unusual quality: alternately atonal, raspy, grating, sometimes spoken, sometimes sung with a tenuous determination that aptly reflects the idealistic music which accompanies them. Scheuber doesn’t hide his voice behind effects or distortion; he sings. The result is beautiful, demonstrating to the world that nonconformity is still alive in music, and for some artists like Scheuber, it’s the dark beat-lined path to success.

RATING 8 / 10