The Notwist | DNO010 | Released: 01/01/02

Image: NeonGolden

15 months in the making, and light years ahead of their post-punk, self-titled debut in 1990, NEON GOLDEN is THE NOTWIST's sixth full length album. Outside of their native Germany, it's probably only the most musically astute who are aware of this Bavarian four piece, and then only through their last album, released by Stereolab's label Duophonic. But the past is, in many ways, irrelevant, and offers little explanation as to why Domino should sign them so far into their career. That explanation is to be found within NEON GOLDEN.

Offering a myriad of offset influences and styles that shouldn't, on paper at least, add up to the masterpiece that it is, NEON GOLDEN seamlessly blends Markus Acher's subtle guitar and plaintive, detached vocals with modern day electronica courtesy of squiggle-rock maestro Martin Grestchmann aka Console. Classically trained trumpeter and bassist Micha Acher provides ultra-fat dub passages alongside lush string and horn arrangements, whilst the whole stew is anchored by Mecki Messerschmid's colourful drum work. The success of the album - and if the response to the limited edition 12" Trashing Days is anything to go by, then success is assured - is in its extraordinary attention to detail, both musical and lyrical, and its ability to cover so much ground without ever seeming disparate or contrived.

NEON GOLDEN opens with the sparse arrangements of "One Step Inside Doesn't Mean You Understand," delicate textures of cello, clarinet, plucked guitar and the sound of a scratchy LP locked in its end groove. These deceptively simple arrangements are reflected in the acclaimed Trashing Days, with its inspired front porch banjo and minimal electro-pops and crackles, which then flood into technicolour with a woodwind fuelled chorus. "Solitaire," too, successfully combines off kilter electro beats with the breathy sound of woodwind and strings that seem to have been lifted from the soundtrack of an old movie. NEON GOLDEN takes these inspired arrangements to a logical conclusion in its title track: more sparse banjo and muted horns are accompanied by soft tabla drums, shuffling sandpaper blocks and even a little sitar before buzzy electronica and brass slowly bring the song to a gentle simmer. Equal parts backwoods finger picking, Indian raga and Miles Davis' In A Silent Way, it captures the unique and inspired spirit behind the album. But NEON GOLDEN is not an exercise in intellectual musicology, or even in melancholic mood creation. In fact the prevailing mood is upbeat, even if much of the album's lyrical content is obsessed with alienation.

The track "Pilot" is a stomper from the word go, an insistent 4/4 groove accentuated by Martin's buzzes and stuttering electro beats, underpinned by Micha's unshakeable bass line and Markus' pure pop melody and simple, escalating guitar line. Like prime New Order, the chorus is the song's launching pad, and yet it still has time for the kind of dub breakdown that would make Jah Wobble smile. "This Room" again displays the band's love of dub, although the recorded version is somewhat more restrained than the stoner-journey that live performances offer. Once again, though, it's the juxtaposition of the electronic with the organic that is so startling - earthy but gargantuan stop/start rhythms and gentle, placid guitars colliding with more of Martin's bleeps, bloops, and studio trickery.

If NEON GOLDEN captures most successfully the intimate and inspired arrangements at the heart of THE NOTWIST's songs, then "One With The Freaks" highlights their continued ability to fill a room with sound that is innovative and yet immediately accessible. Following "Solitaire" like a slow sunrise after a lonely, endless night, its gentle introduction, and insistent "have you ever been all messed up" vocal line gives way to an explosive drum track and sunshine filled guitar pop. It's the fact that they can fill three minutes with pop this joyful and inspired, and yet address issues of alienation and loneliness, that sets THE NOTWIST apart. Within the context of the more subdued tracks, like "One Step Inside," lines like "in your world, my feet are out of step" may not be such a shock. But to emerge from a song with the words "pick up the phone, answer me at last, today I will step out of your past / ringing in your head like a terrace anthem." To be crashing around to "This Room" and suddenly become aware that you're chanting "no matter what we say, no matter what we do, we will never leave this room, what are we going to do about this". To end the album with the plaintive sound of Markus singing "leave me paralysed".

These are the things that make THE NOTWIST one of the most refined and important bands of the new year. Although this album was released by City Slang overseas in 2002, the Domino version will have three bonus tracks: "Scoop," "Propeller 9," and "Formiga." After a few listens, it's easy to understand why NEON GOLDEN took so long to make, and why it was so emotionally draining. It's been a long time since anyone made a record of such deep soul and smarts, and it is the direct results of years of hard work developing a craft, sticking to principles, while others opt to take the fast track and subsequently burn out. NEON GOLDEN is the sound of a group of artists comfortably and confidently hitting their stride, and it harks back to the days when an entire album actually meant something. Welcome back an aesthetic sorely missed. Welcome (back) THE NOTWIST.


Image: NeonGolden

CD-DNO-010 | Out now

Add to cart: $12.00
  • 01. One Step Inside Doesn't Mean You Understand
  • 02. Pilot
  • 03. Pick Up the Phone
  • 04. Trashing Days
  • 05. This Room
  • 06. Solitaire
  • 07. One With the Freaks
  • 08. Neon Golden
  • 09. Off The Rails
  • 10. Consequence
  • 11. Scoop
  • 12. Propeller 9
  • 13. Formiga