Review Summary: Bohren's best work in a decade expands their sound to mostly successful results.
There’s something about the brooding pace, the somber saxophone and the wishful keys of Bohren & der Club of Gore’s music that evokes the imagery of midnight city streets more vividly than it seems music should be capable of capturing. Of course, when your music is often referred to as “noir jazz” because it exists as a distant, moody offspring of noir film soundtracks, it benefits from the previously existing association that the noir era created between low-key jazz and dark cities. But there’s a reason this type of music was specific to that style. These instruments, when played at this brooding, lustful pace, simply ooze the shadowy, melancholy feelings that are naturally associated with rain highlighted by streetlights, fog illuminated by headlights, and jazz bar stage lights filtered through cigarette smoke.
On Piano Nights
, Bohren brings a lot of their past work together to create some of their most powerful and matured creations to date. Many tracks here exist as combinations of the best elements of past work, while a few sound like they were lifted from the best batch of their old material. Opener “Im Rauch” is the best example of the benefits of Bohren uniting all aspects of their sound. It’s aesthetically most reminiscent of Sunset Mission
, as the moody sax defines much of the track’s dark and melancholy atmosphere, but it’s structured more loosely like something from Dolores
, which allows for the isolated, emotive saxophone’s smoky rise out of the density of the hazy backdrop to hit more surprisingly and more powerfully. Taking the forefront of the track, rather than working directly alongside of the keys, more weight is placed on the instrument, and that responsibility yields perhaps the most heartfelt and soulful performance of Bohren’s career.
is varied not just in structure or approach, but in mood and aesthetic as well. Dolores
’s bright, Eno-influenced synths are lifted directly for the pervading aura of “Segeln ohne Wind”, but Piano Nights
thankfully places most of the hopeful mood in the hands of the saxophonist, who in turn provides a powerful but uncharacteristically uplifting centerpiece for the song, which is something Dolores
desperately needed. Despite some of the brilliance on display here, Piano Nights
isn’t entirely without fault. The album is often stripped down to some of the band’s most minimal stylings, but while Black Earth
used the emptiness to share an even more visceral loneliness through the jazz instrumentation, Piano Nights
relies too heavily on the droning synths. The synths themselves aren’t problematic, and when they’re varied to provide a more uplifting soundscape they display a new dimension of the band’s more recent sound, but Bohren uses them far too often as an atmospheric crutch in the silence left by the sparse use of their more masterful instrumentation, and the dark synths are generally used too liberally throughout the album to the point where they hold very little weight even when they carry the brunt of the ambiance.
Fortunately, these issues only reveal themselves on a couple of tracks here, and the lengthier pieces are all sprawling masterpieces. Ten minute “Verloren (Alles)” is the album’s peak, maintaining its relentlessly brooding sentiment while it weaves in and out of every aspect of the band’s sound. Like the album’s opener, “Verloren”’s instruments rise and fall unannounced out of the gloom, each time more demanding and more determined than the last, until everything settles back into the unnerving silence that surrounds it.
is Bohren’s most powerful work since 2002’s Black Earth
, and though its consistency falters slightly in a couple of places, Bohren’s sound has always had the benefit of retaining its nature as a moody backdrop even at its worst. But Piano Nights
hits far more often than it misses, and when it hits it’s more on point and focused than Bohren has been in a decade, producing some of the band’s best output to date. Piano Nights
shows that late in their career, Bohren still strives to evolve and expand their sound, and for a band that’s spent over twenty years creating low-key and subdued works, they’re still making a lot of noise.