Review Summary: The Notwist plot twist
It’s fair to say that The Notwist have had a hard time of it since 2002’s Neon Golden
, which saw the German trio heralded as potential future kings of experimental electronic indie (or if you will, the next Radiohead). Unfortunately for artist and fans alike, three albums and eighteen years separate this release from that one, and the consensus is that the band have since failed to lay thick any prints comparable to that golden cult classic’s deep influence. This isn’t necessarily as doom and gloom as you might expect, and their projects haven’t necessarily been bad. It’s more-so that the fresh creativity and charisma once in abundance from their time atop the indietronica canon has gradually swapped instead for an ever more comfortable mould of half-baked experimentation. It’s a story oft-told in the realm of past-“future”-indie darlings, particularly those utilising the kind of electronic bleeps’n’bloops The Notwist once mastered with a fresh air. So, what, if any, is the solution? Well, it appears a six-year wait and a shit ton of features. That’s all, problem solved.
Okay, I concede. It’s not quite as simple as that. In fact, maybe the most notable improvement seen on Vertigo Days
is just how darn-tooting fresh the genre canvas developed is. The trio’s previous adventures into a more ambient, electronica or neo-psychedelic landscape felt less-than inspired. However, here the luscious, looming glow of such a landscape takes on a gloriously complete form akin to the album’s artwork. It’s a unique and fleshed out combination of influences and genres. At the core is this psychedelic shine yet a slight move of the eye’s gaze pulls into focus outside glimpses of dark and light hues, green leaves and yellow glow. All of these focal points and connoted emotions weave together to form a piece of art much more the sum of its parts than brief glimpses into something special. It’s this certain and fully developed rich range of atmosphere that their previous outings lacked.
This luscious bright hue at the centre takes on different forms throughout the near 50-minute runtime. One such form is a loose haunting post-punk backbone, primarily seen in Exit Strategy To Myself
where the drums’ repetitive pounding is effectively hidden in the haze, letting minds wander briefly into darker territory but holding close the album’s essential glow. Almost oxymoronic from this, could-be club bound electronic tracks appear in brief portions throughout the album, born for a good-natured boogie. This style is at its most bouncy in Al-Sur
towards the end of the album, in which the verse-chorus structure is a 0-100 masterclass of indietronica at its most fun, drum machine and posi-vibes essential. In truth, this song struggles to fit within the album’s comfortable snug, but it remains a damn good time. These two songs act as a spectrum between which the album’s sound balances. Fear not though, superfans, for this is certainly still the band many fell in love with back in the day. Looming in the foreground of all these exhilarating new forms are the trustworthy electronic and krautrock influences essential to the group’s identity, now accompanied by this neo-psych haze and benefitting buckets from it. Further, and perhaps most importantly, Markus Archer’s near twee vocals are as beautiful as ever, still as gentle as to tease unfurling at the tiniest pull. All this together blueprints a band successfully infusing old templates with fresh ideas.
Thus, for the first time since 2003, The Notwist have crafted an album which just feels certain
. Even slight missteps feel beneficial, and even teeny moments feel massive. I mean, just listen to the voice-break vocal inflection sung in each chorus of Sans Solei
, oh boy melt me. For further evidence of this certainty, simply glance at the feature list. Five out of eleven non-interlude instrumental tracks feature artists from over the globe. This could have easily been to pique interest but instead each stands as calculated additions weaving within the album’s seamless ebb and flow. On Ship
, a song which fits within the prior mentioned club-bound spectrum of the album, magnificent bass funk is ridden vocally by Japanese dream-pop singer Saka, with Archer only providing a blink-and-you-might-miss-it harmonization - a momentary dreamy departure within the psychedelic shine. Half-way through Oh Sweet Fire
, American jazz artist Ben LaMar Gay disrupts Archer’s gentle croon with a contrasting husk baritone, a drop-note gut punch improving an already mighty track. The album ends with a confident curtain call as the final track reprises the second, circling back what will certainly be one of the most complete album experiences of the year.
is a long-awaited return to form for a band many had begun to write off. Instead of trying to force lightning into the bottle, The Notwist waited patient for storm clouds to form. Sure, it’s not Neon Golden
, but it comes inch close. In 2021, this is more than enough. And if that isn’t enough proof, even the name is inspired. Vertigo Days
, like god damn, doesn’t that just sound
The next Radiohead, perhaps.