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Jonas Reinhardt - Mask of the Maker

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Artist: Jonas Reinhardt

Album: Mask of the Maker

Label: Not Not Fun

Review date: Apr. 1, 2013

Jonas Reinhardt has been a long time coming, young Americans faithfully and without irony reproducing the sounds of 1970s West Germany. Much of what this San Francisco band has done could slip by unnoticed on a Harmonia record, or between the tracks of Wolfgang Riechmann’s Wunderbar. There’s plenty of indie projects that drop a motorik number here or there, but Jonas Reinhardt is dedicated, incorporating even kitsch elements like new age along with the Klaus Dinger beats.

First, a quick note on what these men are fetishizing. The German post-hippy explorations happening in the Federal Republic weren’t exactly a side road running parallel to the Beatles/Dylan/Stones/Beach Boys firmament. They were feeding into the rest of pop obliquely, a trickle at first, with the the literal woosh of "Autobahn" and Bowie and Eno’s trips to Berlin piquing curiosity. German experimenters were just peripheral enough to the Anglophone world that it’s taken decades for their techniques to fully filter through the styles they borrowed from and bumped up against. From the outside, it’s always been tempting for terms like krautrock and kosmische to represent a cohesive scene, but most of the groups weren’t successful enough within their own country for Cologne to be aware of what was happening in Munich. Besides, the music wasn’t always cosmic or even particularly rocking. What the German bands did have in common, without realizing it, was a desire to escape the blues underpinnings of modern pop, without retreating into their own still fraught culture. And they did escape, through rhythms that were propulsive without being swinging.

In the U.S., a clear path back to ’70s Germany was hard to trace before the internet era. Fans generally backtracked through post-punk, Eurodisco, drone metal, post-rock or Detroit techno, the disparate scenes German influence had rippled through. Whereas garage revivalists or neo-ravers showed up within a dozen years of their genres’ initial bang, a few extra decades were required to form a complete picture of avant-German music.

Mask of the Machine Jonas Reinhardt’s best-realized album to date, avoiding the very authentic tendency to run on too long, while staying true to the established aesthetic. These men have grown beyond being just a composition platform for Jesse Reiner’s synth-patching, just as Can and Kraftwerk moved from conservatory theory to groove machine.

"Elimination Street" is a full-on disco number with Giorgio Morodor fundamentals: banks of blip percussion and a female vocalist wafting through the pulses. One thing that distinguishes Jesse Reiner’s choices from other analog revivalists is the soft tones -- with the full arsenal of vintage synths available, he avoids pseudo horns or strings. Likewise, the rest of the group never lets the guitars and drums get sharp or twangy. They’ve nailed the amorphous ideal, playing like bean bag sofas and hi-fi egg chairs are still the acme of interior design.

They don’t completely avoid the sounds of modern recording. There’s a precision to the tribal drumming on “Semazen Salem” that likely involves digital looping, a turbulent bed for a Hollywood Arabian melody that’s bathed in tremolo. The hand drums are surgically tight, but the fake-ethnic vibe is fun enough that it doesn’t break the electronic-but-not-digital sheen. “Jungle Jah,” despite the title, isn’t particularly Jamaican. It moves with techno precision, with a breakdown that’s particular mechanical. But these tracks are the exception to the humans-playing-cyborgs style that dominates.

You could accuse the title track of going over the top. It’s another number with vocals (an element that they’ve just started employing) telling the story of a hausfrau. With everything else they’ve borrowed, why start affecting the vocabulary too? But it’s lovely, slightly dark pop, and like the artists who inspired them, shows an eagerness to find new space.

By Ben Donnelly

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