Ulrich Schnauss – A Long Way To Fall (2013)

longway

I feel like I’ve arrived late on the Schnauss scene. I have of course listened to the all important Strangely Isolated Place but it’s been some time since, and I never got round to listening to his most recent (2007) album Goodbye, but I have it on good faith that the two are sonically similar. Schnauss is, or at least was, a man firmly rooted in Dream Pop and Shoegaze; floaty, ethereal genres with downtempo beats and plenty of space to work in. I suppose in some respects the fact that I havent explored his discography too extensively is somewhat advantageous, since it means I’m not quite so surprised by the material being released here.

The first indication that all may not be well for long time fans begins with the opener “Her And Her Sea”; rolling, syncopated beats swirl and overlap while the synth does its work in the fore creating a sweet repetitive riff that keeps coming back and driving the track along to keep it from stagnating. But it’s subtle, almost buried by the myriad of bustling textures above, weaving in and out before dying rapidly to move into the chaser “Broken Homes”. There is a surprising amount of variety already beginning to creep in, with an almost Kettel-esque vibe to the sound here with its stripped back and sparse melodic fragments and peculiar foreign language samples, broken with the intermittent laser pulses of synths zipping through the downtempo electronica.

But “Like A Ghost In Your Life” erodes all the mild creepiness and downbeat vibes the previous tracks built up with its warm lines and generally jovial nature, the mixed and chaotic textures all coalescing to form mini choruses where they work together to establish a really enjoyable and head-nodding atmosphere. Hearing all these little elements come together to create a much more substantial and multi-faceted whole is really pleasing, although it could have been done with far fewer tones and been a little more enjoyable I think, I almost feel sensory overload coming on and we’re not even half way. The title track begins to carry on much of the established tones, forging a solid bassline with some distal and low-key synth; it’s an odd dynamic of compellingly driven vs. floaty and ethereal, and yet it somehow works. It lives up to its namesake well; the drop may well be a long way and there is an inherent fear in the looking, but it’s all in slow motion as a result. Buried vocals come in during the latter half to add to the acceptant vibe, barely discernible they are purely textural and actually a nice touch.

Finally we start to get to the mid-album, my favourite bit. Growling guitars break open “I Take Comfort In Your Ignorance” to set a good pace as the synth begins to warm up, the two playing off each other in a rising crescendo; the guitars stubbornly refusing to back down with brute force, the electronica creeping up with determination in their softer tones. I can see the partnership he recently had with Jonas Munk, aka Manual, strongly in this one, it’s very similar to the way he plays off shoegazing guitar with his downtempo glitch and electronic, eccept it’s gotten an upgrade here. The 2nd half is unbelievable; wet synths break a pause in the music and the guitars chase them down rapidly as the pace and ferocity cranks up several notches; sophisticated dance music this.

But my absolute favourite track is still to come, “A Forgotten Birthday”. This is more like the Schnauss we recognise, with laidback Dream Pop vibes mixed with this new rush of excitable electronic he’s experimenting with. What makes this one stand out exactly? Well, I’m not sure, it just feels so much more jubilant than the rest of the album, so much more carefree and happy. The shimmering synth riffs of the chorus are absolutely beautiful and even better is that Schnauss dishes its gorgeous optimism out for a whole 7 minutes, with guitar fiddles and bell rings padding it out and leaving you waiting for the next wave of swirling beats to align. The latter half continues with harder beats in “The Weight Of Darkening Skies” which at times sounds almost like a foray into Darkwave with its heady and bold synths but sadly the it starts to feel a little samey and repetitive as we move into “Borrowed Time”; while far from being terrible (indeed it’s probably one of the better tracks), I just can’t help but feel a little tired of the sound by now. It’s challenging to consume this album as a single entity due to its scope and relentlessness, but alone it’s rather good with its dry, coarse synths and uplifting accompanying melodies. It’s carefree and living without regrets in the present.

“10 Years” returns with a more retrospective and nostalgic sound but is most definitely overlong as the penultimate track and with so little variation that I can feel myself start to slip away quite rapidly now, my attention beginning to wane and my ears starting to ask for a respite. None of the tracks here are bad, far from it in many cases, but it is a very exhausting album in general and closer “A Ritual In Time And Death” does nothing to alleviate this. In fact, it strikes up a commanding melody right from the off and I know now it’s the time to give up. I can’t hack it anymore. This 7 minute finalé is excellent though, with fantastic IDM influences flowing throughout but I just can’t listen to that synth anymore.

When you’ve stuck to your guns and produced a similar sound across your albums, it is indeed a long way to fall when you decide to change tack entirely and approach music in a very different way. I think Schnauss has pulled it off well here, balancing the right notes of nostalgia with hopefulness and anxiety over his potential success or failure as he moves into this new musical field, but despite the good diversity there is always that annoying synth element underpinning everything that just gets tiresome and frankly irritating towards the end. Nonetheless, a pretty fine album all round.

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