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december, 15th




Close-ups of circuit boards in blue Joan Miro hues, resembling ancient Mayan temples, garnish The Notwist's newest release. The strange yet recognizable photos set the stage for an album of disparate sounds (electronica, sax, and jangly guitar) assembled into a harmonious package, new yet familiar.

The Notwist members pull from a grab bag of experience, instruments, and influences, flowing like a lava lamp between this band and myriad side projects (Village of Savoonga, Console, Toxic, & Tied and Tickled Trio, to name a few). The versatility shows in the music: reed and brass instruments snuggle up comfortably next to pop guitar and drums.

The songs possess an airy, gentle quality, due in large part to Markus Acher's vocals, sung endearingly with his wistful, elongated German accent. For fans of New Order, Pet Shop Boys, and Electronic, this album will connect in an immediate, visceral way.

"Day 7" kicks off Shrink. Rhythmic scratches, clanks, and percussion segue into clean electric guitar, fuzzed bass, and pounding drums. It's a tune of bittersweet longing - "the shore/I see the shore from here/I see your town/I see your house/ and you/...I count the letters of your name/I count the days/'til you are here again/Day 7..." - sincere & appealing, establishing the mood of the album.

Sampler Martin ("Sound-o-naut") Gretschmann has a deft touch with the decks, placing ursine notes and growls in "Electric Bear", handclaps in "No Encores", and bubbling lava sounds in "Another Planet". Remember Bobby Brady's volcano experiment? I swear it's in there.

Best of all, it took a stroke of genius to mix the sound of a connecting modem into the winsome single, "Chemicals". An impersonal electronic device plays against the emotional disconnection between the singer and the subject - "You are no good/And I know that you can't sleep/Until you know your overbearance makes me creep." It's startling upon recognition, then stunning in appropriateness.

If you liked Electronic's instrumental "Free Will" off the "Get the Message" single, the sax-soaked "N.L." will be manna from heaven. "Moron", another instrumental, is equally angelical, with its beat cafe bass clarinet/lounge drum opening, breaking to a sax caterwaul, beach-movie drums, and vibraphone. "Your Signs" relies on a strong bass clarinet again, with Marcus' vocals bringing welcome associations of Bernard Sumner.

Fans of The Notwist (pronounced "no twist") will notice that Shrink combines four new songs ("Moron", "N.L", "Shrink", and "0-4") with six others found on 12" singles released in Germany, the U.S., and elsewhere in the same (or alternate) mixes. Regardless of origin, the songs blend well together, which isn't surprising considering Markus Acher and Micha Acher wrote 9/10 of the songs. The Sound-o-naut takes credit for the tenth tune ("No Encores"), with all lyrics written by Markus.

I was never satisfied with the transition between New Order's Brotherhood and Technique albums. "Bizarre Love Triangle" to "Mr. Disco" - much too jarring for a delicate constitution. Nature abhors a vacuum, and now, a decade later, a transitional album appears, released by another band. If only Mr. Peabody and Sherman could take it back to me.

Chris Hill