The Notwist – Close To The Glass

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Rating: ★★★ · ·

This German band has been around making records for a long time. When I open a review with something about a bands’ extensive career I usually mean somewhere along the lines of a decade or so, but The Notwist handily defeat this notion through their 20+ year career effort that is still tacking on more releases. 2008’s The Devil, You + Me reminded us all that this band still had it in them, and Close To The Glass looks to repeat that phenomenon.

On the aforementioned record we heard the subtle indie rock of this group somehow manage to feel subtler in its simmering singles like “Good Lies,” but Close to the Glass has something else in store: electronic. From the very first track this is impossible to miss: consisting of pure electronic elements to begin, The Notwist certainly don’t skirt around this change. “Signals,” carries on this way, incorporating what resembles some dub sounds, breaking it down to a groovier and choppier mix than we’ve heard from the group. Of course Markus Acher’s hollow vocals still compliment this beat with ease and delicacy, balancing out the violence of the electronic sounds with his calming voice. The title track follows in the same pursuit, though this time the electro-beats, aided by hand claps feel tribal, which makes for an odd sound whose enticing nature cannot be challenged, but perhaps worries me a little for the sake of longevity.

Third track, “Kong,” takes a complete departure from everything you’ve thus encountered on Close To The Glass, and pushes you back to their classic sound. The mild vocals are abundant and focal, the driving synth base hovers in the background, while a faded drumbeat drives the song all in a hyper-collected fashion. Songs like these are simply what this band do best—you’ll hear a lo-fi fuzzed out version of this archetypal song, albeit a bit slowed down, on “Seven Hour Drive.”  Its got the build up to the outburst of sound and tempo of a chorus that will have you rocking along with them.

The drawback on Close To The Glass, is that it is easy to fall in and out of attention with the tracks. If you’re not careful, you will find yourself finished with the record without a strong recollection of some of the songs Acher’s voice is soothing and easy, glazing over the sometimes ambient—sometimes all out alt-rock—backing instrumentation. So listen carefully for your favorites to add to your catalog.

Top 40 Songs Of The Year

So when we thought making an albums of the year post was hard, this one proved to be even harder.  How do you take literally thousands of songs and narrow it down to the best 40 of the year?  Not too sure how to answer that question, but we tried.  Each of these songs scream 2008 in our ears.  As evident by this list, the year in music was quite a good one and we had some tough choices to make.  We’ve got some of the songs streaming for you or links to the song on youtube.  Follow the jump to see if your favorite tune of the year made the list.

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The Notwist – The Devil, You + Me

Rating: ★★★★ ·

The album opener sets the tone for this album. “Good Lies,” kicks off this record with an introduction to the group’s guitar-work. It’s quite a change from their near-perfect Neon Golden. This song bounces along, being pushed by the guitars, but it doesn’t quite have the pace of songs like “Pilot,” off their previous album. Where you hope for a dramatic shift, it just goes along, then adds a little bit of the electronic beats, which is where the band receives a lot of their accolades.

Another solid number that opens a new vein for The Notwist is “Gloomy Planet.” The soothing voice of Markus Acher is layered beneath a strumming acoustic guitar, while the minimal beats dance their way to the background. The subject matter of the song seems a bit gloomier than prior efforts, but I think that title of the album really sets that mood from the minute you purchase this album.

There are definitely some redundant parts on this album, such as “Alphabet,” but I think it is really hard to pull of this dynamic sound without treading over the same round again and again. On top of that, you add the lack of range for Acher, and at times the album kind of just blends in with itself, which I think is going to be the biggest complaint from any listener. That, and there are a few moments where they push the electronic buttons a little too loud and too far, which got a little grating on my ears, as short-lived as it was.

Given some weaknesses, there are some supreme moments on this album. For me, as a listener, “On Planet Off,” is reminiscent of some of the Industrial nineties music that I just adored, only a great deal more ambient than all that. Not to mention, you don’t find a lot of songs better than “Devil, YOu + Me” these days. Then you comes along a song like “Boneless” near the end of the album to pick the pace back up and put a little bit of a bounce back in your step.

You add the faults and the good moments in this record, and you find a rarity in today’s music world. You find an album that you can listen to from start to finish; each track requires careful attention, and with that attention, each song continues to open up new doors for you. It may not be the album that blows your hair back, but it is an album that fails to let you down, which is a lot to say for a band that was surrounded in hype and anticipation.

Here’s a track off the new album called “Good Lies”:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/notwist-good-lies.mp3]

Download: goodlies.mp3