Review Summary: The second release from the German electronic duo takes a small step forward, creating another body of work that is pleasing despite the occasional miss.
Following the 2004 release of their first release, Gehen
, electronic duo Oliver Doerell (a.k.a. Dictaphone) and Stephen Wöhrmann return under the alias of Swod for a sophomore effort. Sekunden
, or "seconds
" in German, brings back the familiar methods of its predecessor by incorporating a blend of acoustic instruments with electronic accentuation. In this instance the piano once again lies in the forefront, providing a great deal of the melodic foundation and complemented by modest drums, both of which are played by Wöhrmann. Doerell assumes the role of contributing the remaining guitar, bass guitar, and electronic implementation that completes the encompassing ambiance.
What separates this release from the previous is a slight, but significant difference in approach. Each track is brimming with sound just as haunting, though perhaps not as dark as before, but the electronic warbles, drones, and white noise seem to be de-emphasized somewhat here. Conversely, the acoustic instruments stand out a little more, where as the presence of guitar, bass guitar and drums were merely a mention in passing for Gehen
. Granted, this is far from a live band setting, as they still maintain a very reserved position and, aside from the piano, still act as more of a support rather than a dominant part in the entire scheme.
In its own light, Sekunden
is an impressive release that maneuvers its way past hypnotic grooves, beautiful piano interludes, and lingering slow burners. The unfortunate thing is that at times it tends to burn a little too slow, as is the case with the introductory Montauk
, which shows the promise to go really somewhere with the ostinato piano strolling past muted bass and a hint of drums. Toward the end the potential to create an interesting transition is presented but it is far too long into the track and much too close to its conclusion to be effective. The following Ja
also crawls forward with a bit too little activity, sounding out drifting piano chords and the occasional voice sample that seems somewhat out of place. Eventually a rhythm is established by some glitches but only in the latter half of the song which don't do much to help, considering it serves as both the second and longest track on the album.
Fortunately by the third track, Deer
, things begin to look up. A cymbal driven groove initiates right off of the bat to be met with a lively piano melody that holds up to those found in Gehen
. Sporadic ambient warbles and swells come to life from time to time, the bass guitar makes another appearance with a mellow groove and a flanger-effected guitar joins in as well. It is a welcome change from the six and a half minutes of stillness in Ja
, but admittedly one that more than likely should have been placed earlier if not as the opening track.
Since it is the nature of Swod, as exemplified by their debut, to drift between sparse ambient passages and rising melodies alike, it is not unexpected that Sekunden
would follow a similar guideline. The title track itself is a much more interesting and active ambient pause than what is offered initially in Ja
, resonating beautifully with a breathy electronic loop whispering above a calm piano interlude without dragging itself out too far or dwelling in one place. Belgian
is another predominantly piano-based passage that rises and falls freely, but rather than leaving a lingering sense of space it travels its course with a determined musical direction. The return of periodic voice samples and timeless glitches also serve to subtly decorate the track without necessarily interrupting it.
Though there are some lulls that seem to stretch themselves out, they are usually countered with engaging responses. Exit
, for example, could serve as one of the better moments on the track with its uplifting piano turned groove on drum and bass combination but it is riddled with the recurring sound of what, in all seriousness, resembles a mouse squeaking incessantly. Thankfully, the following Insects
is considerably less distracting and offers a walk through an at times dissonant melody that, appropriately, features the sound of crickets chirping and buzzing throughout electronic warbles and the like. Even the record itself finds some of its higher points at the end of the album during the bass-driven, chilling groove of Frost
and the ultimately energetic, highly engaging drum and piano cascade Patinage
. However, even Patinage
takes its time in reaching its peak interest and when it does, through both ambient spaces and cymbal grooves, it quickly retreats back into a quiet exit.
At times it may seem like some of the ideas from Gehen
are being used again, but in all fairness at times they actually are. Sekunden
is not a very large step away from Swod's first release which, depending on how you look at it, is both a good and a bad thing. What is good about this is that a lot of what made Gehen
a hauntingly beautiful cohesion is present in a few new ways. The bad part is that at times some of the tracks can tend to drag on or lose interest, but for the most part this is due to sub-par track placement or inactivity. When the music is
active it really is quite impressive, but when it is not
or fails to reach its full potential it's somewhat of a let down. Despite all of this, the signature method of Swod and the combining of elements in Sekunden
still stands out as a well produced example of creative exploration.