Music critics, by nature, are always on the lookout for narratives. We look for ways to contextualize an album and explain its place in an artist’s discography. For better or worse, this isn’t really something you can do with Tangerine Dream. They are more of an organism than a band—an ever-shape-shifting, ever-rotating cast of electronic musicians whose body of work is so prolific and so enormous that it defies all storylines. Tangerine Dream have done everything from soundtrack Grand Theft Auto V to making cheesy Beatles covers to compose a musical trilogy based on Dante’s Divine Comedy.
What’s more, none of the present-day members were with the band when it formed in 1967, under the leadership of Edward Froese. Froese passed away in 2015, leaving the band with three members: Thorsten Quaesching, Ulrich Schnauss, and Hoshiko Yamane. Since then, and since their heyday in the 1970s, Tangerine Dream’s highwater marks have been few and far between.
All of which is forgivable, of course. Tangerine Dreams were pioneers of what they did, and like most pioneers, eventually, everyone else caught up. On their latest album, Raum, Tangerine Dream show that they’re okay with that. They don’t need to reinvent the wheel. But neither are they content to rest on their laurels and fall in line with all the half-assed new-age knockoffs they’ve spawned.
Raum combines the best of both worlds: it’s every bit as spacey and floaty as you’d expect a Tangerine Dream album to be, but it doesn’t fall into the wallpaper-music trappings that a lot of their work falls into. These guys still know how to dial up tempos and switch up rhythms here and there. Thirty seconds into the first track, “Continuum”, we find an infectious techno beat over a series of urgent, flurrying synths. The song veers from urgent to hesitant throughout, giving it an air of unpredictability.
The great thing about Raum is that it’s a little more unpredictable than your typical Tangerine Dream LP. Nowhere is this truer than on the 19-minute epic “In 256 Zeichen”. About 11 minutes in, just when you think it’s time to nod off, all the guitars, violins, and synths fade away, and the whole song switches gears. The rest of the song is buoyed by the warmest, most melodic synth-lead on the album. What makes it so beautiful is how the track’s pads undercut each note—the pads function as echoes of the synth-lead itself.
The other highlight of Raum is the 15-minute title track. Its arpeggiated synths build and build for more than ten minutes and then disappear, leaving an ocean of mournful violins in their wake. The ending feels somber and inward-looking, a contrast to the cosmic, outward-looking nature of the LP. It isn’t the most immediate piece on the record, but it’s one of the tightest, a kosmische-epic that’s genuinely in the spirit of Froese.
On the whole, Raum certainly isn’t Phaedra or Rubycon, but that’s okay. Its simplistic, elegiac beauty pays homage to those classic LPs while remaining grounded in 2022. Raum proves that Tangerine Dream still have a few tricks up their sleeves, which is more than can be said of most acts this deep into their career.