Review Summary: Blending everyday found sounds into his innovative brand of indie-tinged electronica, Berlin's Phon°noir produces one of the most inventive releases of 07
"My life", Berlin-based musician Matthias Grübel once told me during an interview. "My life, the people around me and everything that goes along with it, plus everything I read, hear and see. I save all of this in a folder in my head".
Referring to his Phon°noir project, Grübel was giving an in-depth description of his recording techniques and just what exactly went into his exquisite 2006 debut "Putting Holes Into October Skies". A debut release that literally came from nowhere, knocking those who heard it sideways with its sheer scope of invention. Blending every day found sounds with bedroom electronics and subtle pop hooks, "Putting Holes..." was simply a delight to discover.
As music pours into an already over-flowing world on a daily basis, while the indie weeklies gear up to review 2007's 1 millionth rock album, Phon°noir's music sticks out like George W. Bush at an anti-war rally. Growing in confidence from the critical acclaim lavished upon his debut, Grübel's follow-up "The Objects Don't Need Us" retains the lo-fi charm that shaped the first album, while presenting a mature, refined approach to songwriting.
"The Objects..." is a rare breed of album, where differing sounds and complex arrangements can be picked out with each listen. Grübel's appreciation for such effects sees him weave sounds within each track in an ingenious manner, turning even the most mundane aspects of life into something wonderful. "A Different Kind Of January", for example, intelligently incorporates cash register sounds within its beats (think along the lines of Pink Floyd's "Money") as Grübel adds reverbed guitar textures, anthemic Radiohead-style orchestral synths and his understated vocals.
"Sing Through Wires", meanwhile, displays his unique vocal style perfectly. Within an alluring pop melody, broken pitter-patter beats, Grübel's half-mumbled, Germanic-tinged English adds to its charm, coming across like a restrained version of The Cure's Robert Smith. The downtempo nature and melancholic guitar progression is contrasted by a glorious, uplifting chorus.
But whereas some albums in a similar vein, wilt under the weight of repetitive sound effects (reference Montag's "Going Places"), Phon°noir's talent lies in the way he ensures each sound perfectly compliments each track. Most compositions are given room to breathe, with each sound carefully placed and forming an important part of the arrangement. The haunting "Guillholmen's" atmosphere, for example, is augmented by lonely scratches created by sliding a plectrum across a fret board. As this track increases in tempo, Grübel's vocals soar almost over-coming every other sound, including the controlled guitar distortion and forlorn violin.
The highlight, though, is undoubtedly, "We Still Miss the Future", a collaboration with Trespassers William vocalist Anne-Lynne Williams. A track that wouldn't feel out of place on a Radiohead album, it uses an inventive backwards looped drum roll and combines it with guitar shimmers and ghostly backing vocals, while Grübel delivers the poignant line 'we still miss the future we once had'.
An album absolutely begging for a set of high quality headphones, it is difficult not to lose yourself within its innovative framework. From the understated vocals, variety of guitar textures and Grübel's originality, "The Objects Don't Need Us" reveals many hidden depths with repeated listens and is amongst the most inventive releases of 2007