It’s not often the worlds of electronic music and hard rock mix, but in 2009 Guns N’ Roses was sued by Ulrich Schnauss’ record companies for using two excerpts of the composer’s music on their Chinese Democracy album. Schnauss’ music is like that — it has a broad appeal. He makes populist electronica, and on No Further Ahead than Today, he gives us a set of big, busy, melodic statements.
This is a good thing and a bad thing. With layer upon layer of synthesizers, mechanized drums, and an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, all mixed at meter-pushing decibel levels, ear fatigue sets in on some tracks. The early influence of shoegaze bands on his music, as far as denseness of production, is obviously still evident. Luckily, Schnauss is smart enough to vary things a bit, particularly towards the end of the album where he lets the music breathe a little more.
No Further is the musician/producer/remixer’s first solo album since becoming a permanent member of electronic pioneers Tangerine Dream. The sudden death of Tangerine Dream founder and leader Edgar Froese in early 2015 and the decision of the group to continue on (for now) with the release of an EP since, is a responsibility that seems to have affected Schnauss’ own work, which sounds more confident and bold. Compared to previous releases under his own name, there are fewer mellow, ambient soundscapes and it all feels somehow brighter.
This brightness carries from the laid back techno flavors of “Melts into Air”, which introduces a hip-hop beat under a soaring synthesizer melody, through to the chill-out mode of the title song and the purposeful “Negative Sunrise”, which is replete with buzzing electronic effects and the deep struck-bell sounds.
“New Day Starts at Dawn” incorporates a faux marimba in the first half, bringing things to a more human level, before a meditative slowdown. The cut then heads into complex computerized melodic lines and shifting rhythms, all ornamented with chiming synth. Closing track “Illusory Sun” shares some of that same shimmering feel and has a mid-period Tangerine Dream sound.
Though electronic music by its nature strives for modernity, Schnauss also looks to a past future, referencing ‘80s beats and textures not only on “Illusory Sun” but with technology treated vocals in the dance-ready “The Magic in You” that harken back to that decade. Elsewhere, songs such as “Wait for Me” would work well as soundtrack music for an ‘80s sci-fi movie like Tron. In fact, apart from the more pensive “Love Grows Out of Thin Air”, much of No Further Ahead than Today would be good soundtrack music for the feel-good, triumphant scenes in films where the hero wins.
This is energized, “up” music, cosmopolitan and tailor-made for strolling around a big city; the flow of traffic and people, a world in motion.