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Einstürzende Neubauten - Strategies Against Architecture IV: 2002-2010

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Artist: Einstürzende Neubauten

Album: Strategies Against Architecture IV: 2002-2010

Label: Mute

Review date: Feb. 4, 2011

Now in its 30th year of operation, and just about to go into hibernation, Einstürzende Neubauten has released its fourth volume of the Strategies Against Architecture series, allowing us to reflect on how Berlin’s original urban wreckage crew has gone from destroying the crippled corpus of rock, to inhabiting an exclusive niche somewhere in one of its darkest recesses. Blixa Bargeld and Co. are certainly a long way from the elemental fire-stoking and alchemical poetics of their earliest, most charged recordings, “Für Den Untergang,” “Kalte Sterne,” Kollaps and Die Zeichnungen Des Patienten OT. But its career trajectory of the last three decades has had Neubauten continually renewing itself, somehow avoiding the descent into self-parody that marked most of its peers, and Strategies Against Architecture IV finds Neubauten as inspiring and troubling as ever.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to be so seduced by the group’s recent form. An encounter with its Jewels album from several years ago left me decidedly nonplussed, and while the band’s project to open its muse to Neubauten supporters via a subscription base was a risky demystification, it was also surprisingly genial for a group that trades primarily in mystique. The “friendly face” of Bargeld rears its not entirely welcome head on “Party In Meck-Pomm,” its one-liner joke thankfully reduced to a barren two minutes. Elsewhere, though, Strategies Against Architecture IV is a reminder of both how sensuous Neubauten’s music has become, and how it plays out with a different kind of tactility to the group’s early days.

Compared to prior attempts at activating the erotic potential of metals, which had Neubaten working parallel to Coil in its How To Destroy Angels phase, we now have a band that indulges almost gratuitously in beauty. (As Bargeld once told Chris Sharp, as far back as 1996: “If you want to be an opponent now, you just wallow in beauty, I guess.”) Many of the songs on disc one — particularly an incredible run through the sub-rosa psychedelics of “Ein Leichtes Leises Säusen,” an eerie and divine, string-bolstered live reading of “Youme & Meyou,” and the pacific ghost tones of “Dead Friends (Around The Corner)” — are near-romantic in their cast. This field was opened by “Blume,” from 1993’s Tabula Rasa, but only fully realized in the past decade. On “Youme & Meyou,” Bargeld’s voice is intimate and sympathetic, sighing mundane profundities like “if the future isn’t bright, at least it’s colourful” atop a spectral pulse.

Of course, this love of beauty was always present in Neubauten’s music, even back to the pop melody submerged deep beneath the astringent crackle of 1981’s “Kalte Sterne.” But instead of exploring the reverberations of hermetic language, and charged, enclosed spaces — water towers, distressed bodies — now Neubauten claims epic poetry as its own, moving almost in geological time, or at very least, at the pace of the body at rest, out in the open. In this paradigm, the group finds new tensions, from the flat-lining buzz and screeds of fluctuating noise that limn “Insomnia,” whose aleatory drift reminds of New Zealand’s free-noise scene, to the odd bossa-dub of “Wo Sind Meine Schuhe?,” one of the most unexpected, and frankly perplexing, things to come from the quintet. Instead of farming thickets of impenetrable Sturm Und Klang, Neubauten now comes at you sideways, disarming with audacity.

The further you clamber through the dense maze of underground tunnels that constitutes Strategies Against Architecture IV, the stranger things become. As the group waded deeper into the “supporter” project, the more it moved into unknown territory, and the more sense the project made. To meet the self-willed demands of the project Neubauten often set strict parameters, such as an album every quarter, or the Oblique Strategies-esque “Dave” card games of the aforementioned Jewels project. If this is not the group’s strongest work, it can often be the most surprising: a droll humor runs through disc two, from the opening “testpattern” for Neubauten TV that is “Sendenzeichen Phase 3,” through to the catcalls to Futurists Russolo and Marinetti in “Let’s Do It A Dada,” which also features a cleverly placed sample of Kurt Schwitters performing his concrete poem, Ur Sonata.

The other thread that connects the entire set is the Motorik pulse of the Neubauten engine-room: Alex Hacke’s pulsating bass and Rudolf Moser’s drums. Bargeld has often claimed Krautrock acts like NEU! and Can as key predecessors and influences, and the fascination that blossomed with 1996 album Ende Neu’s “NNNAAAMMM” finds expression throughout Strategies Against Architecture IV, from the pop-Motorik of the opening single edit of “Perpetuum Mobile” through to the throbbing heartbeat that courses through “Unvollständigkeit.” Of all the groups of the last 20 years to claim Krautrock as a key influence, it’s really only Neubauten that has seriously made good on the fissile experimentalism and the eternal flow “to the horizon” that characterized the best Krautrock.

Ultimately, the sense I get from Neubauten’s most recent form is that of openness, and the kind of vulnerability that can paradoxically empower the artist to create music that’s free from the anxiety of “everything at stake.” If there’s a pacific wisdom to some of Strategies Against Architecture IV, that’s due to lessons learned through experimentation, and a further relaxation of the hardwired intensities of the band’s early music. The broken, buckled drum stool on the front cover thus is both an allegory of an earlier age, and a hint that combustible energy still drives Neubauten. But it’s also a very physical, corporeal signifier of time spent journeying, of years as alchemists.

And you know what else? The Jewels sound just fine.

By Jon Dale

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The Jewels

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