The Notwist – Close to the Glass

The Notwist have a Fugazi problem. Like that storied DC postpunk band, Germany’s Notwist perfected a sound that soon became epochal at the hands of those who crashed the gates behind them, only to shift course in order to avoid repeating themselves and sounding like guests at the party they started. In the Notwist’s case their defining moment was 2002’s Neon Golden, which essentially defined the term “glitch-pop” and predated the Postal Service’s genre breakthrough Give Up by nearly a year.

Fortunately, the Notwist have a somewhat easier task than Fugazi did.  They’d already proven themselves skilled at metamorphosis (programmer Martin Gretschmann’s arrival marked a significant mid-’90s turn), and have more relatively untilled ground to explore adjacent to their trademark sound than the scorched earth that was left behind by ’90s alt rock. Further, Gretschmann and brothers Markus and Micha Acher allow plenty of time for their ideas to regenerate – six year cycles seem to be the order of business. They work in countless permutations under project names like 13 & God, Lali Puna and the Tied & Tickled Trio. All are perfectly good, but as Elvis Costello once said about the Attractions, when the Notwist get together, something just happens.

Close to the Glass is immediately recognizable as the work of the same band that made Neon Golden and 2008’s excellent The Devil, You & Me, but at the same time is the trio’s most experimental and varied. Micha Acher’s plaintive, English as a Second Language vocals convey a sublime intersection of detachment, sensitivity and alienation.  His voice is put to best use on the guitar-driven “Kong,” easily the catchiest of these dozen tracks and a surreal autobiographical tale of a flooding home and a child’s hopes for a superhero rescuer. Elsewhere the beat drops out entirely (“Into Another Tune”) and Gretschmann is given a wide berth to deploy his electronic mayhem, recalling an updated Mouse on Mars.  The captivating nine-minute “Lineri,” reportedly an all-hands live studio creation, achieves a mystical blend of motorik and new classical.

Perhaps most surprising is “Seven Hour Drive,” the Notwist’s noisiest track since their near-hardcore early days.  I think that’’s a heavily processed saxophone trill I hear in the bridge, but since even the band claims it can’t recall everything it ran through its analog synths, I can’t feel too badly about being uncertain. That’s the sort of creative abandon that makes it hard to wait six years between releases – and that makes an album like Close to the Glass so rewarding once it finally surfaces.

The Notwist
Close to the Glass
[Sub Pop]