Review Summary: If M83 is shoegaze played by a robot, Ulrich Schnauss is shoegaze played by a cyborg.
An album doesn't have to be a masterpiece in order to enjoyable. You savour a fine wine, you get paralytic off cheap vodka; both are a pretty good time. Ulrich Schnauss' A Strangely Isolated Place
is very much an album in this mould. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the record that warrants paragraphs of ranting, but neither does the album reach any great heights that would place it amongst the jewels of your collection. What we have then in A Strangely Isolated Place
is a pleasantly straightforward listen that's easy on the ears and likely to leave a satisfied smile on your face, but which falls well short of engendering any sort of slobbering devotion to the altar of Mr. Schnauss.
Schnauss peddles a brand of melodic electronica somewhere between latter-day The Album Leaf and early M83. And much like the work of M83, A Strangely Isolated Place
is a quite blatant nod to the early nineties shoegaze movement, with Schnauss using his Mac to channel the likes of Slowdive and Robin Guthrie. So, instead of wall-of-sound guitars, A Strangely Isolated Place
provides us with wavering washes of synth over unobtrusive trip-hop beats and the odd humanising touch to create the same sort of dreamy ambience.
The result of this altered tool-set is that the music produced has somewhat less depth and feeling than that of its muses. Handily, this isn't as damning an indictment as it may at first appear, as the thinner, more veneered electronic sound lends a bit of individuality to A Strangely Isolated Place
, with the album presenting itself as light and airy – somewhat more optimistic than the ambivalent introspection of the shoegaze genre. The upshot of this is that the album gradually and subtly establishes its own presence and identity, and after a couple of listens, tracks such as "Clear Day", "On My Own" and "In All The Wrong Places" will burn their way into your soft brain, surreptitiously making the album increasingly more endearing. In its own unassuming way, Schnauss' unassuming music grows on you.
There is much to like about A Strangely Isolated Place
. It's not pretentious, it's well-crafted and it's eminently enjoyable. While it lacks that certain something, that secret aural ingredient which provokes a strong emotional response in the listener, such an absence doesn't rob it of all value. Whether favoured as a night-time nostalgic aide or a summer sunset soundtrack, the album has just enough quality and charm to at least carve out its own special nook in your horde of music.