Monday, February 28, 2011

mutter

du bist nicht mein bruder
[1993, what's so funny about..]


(partially) rising from the ashes of berlin's awesome post-punk outfit, campingsex, was mutter. following that group's demise, thomas "max" müller (vocals, bass) and florian koerner von gustorf (drums) joined up with kerl fieser (bass) and frank behnke (guitar) to create an entirely different beast. while florian and max's prior group embodied pretty much what you'd expect from mid-80's post-punk (with the added bonus of rocking harder, moping less); mutter was.. heavy. rate your music labels them noise rock, but i feel pretty meh about that. it doesn't help that they're not so neatly classifiable. du bist nicht mein bruder (you are not my brother) oftentimes teeters dangerously close to doom metal but (thankfully) max's vocals, as well as style, help mutter avoid some of that genre's more theatrical trappings. when you add to that a penchant for discordant feedback, experimentation and top notch production values (best with headphones!) you've got an album that would just as easily fit today on something like the crucial bliss imprint; heavy, but genre-bending, rock with experimental and noise leanings.

about twenty-three seconds is all it took for me to fall in love with this. seriously. album opener lachen ist billig (laugh is cheap) starts out with a slow snare drum-led cadence and dual channels of screaming feedback, but as soon as that heavily distorted bass comes in, whew, it's a thing of beauty to my ears. a warbling guitar loop will occupy the right channel, while the left is consumed by a tandem of feedback and textural guitar chords (read: noise). the center is taken up by drones and that same introductory drum pattern. when it's time for the chorus to roll around we're greeted to a bombastic, but slowly seesawing, bass riff, while müller barks out the song's title, aided by multi-tracking of his vocals. there's so many sonically good and captivating things going on here that it's almost overwhelming.

strangely enough, they'll follow that up with the acoustic guitar and harmonica-based alles, was du schon immer hören wolltest (everything that you always wanted to hear) and.... well, it quickly becomes an interesting mix of things that shouldn't really go together; florian's rich drumming would seem to be far better suited for something a bit harder, the acoustic guitar will be paired with a terrific (electric) bassline and there's also distorted guitar noise thrown in, seemingly just to clash with the effervescent harmonica. so, yeah, this is somewhat of a headscratcher, but between the bass, the cool, mantra-like, gang-sung repetition of the track's title juxtaposed with max's more emotional reciting over the top of everything, it has grown on me with repeated listens. still.. odd.

the deep and dark bass chords that open up the (joyless) humor will see the band getting back to form, and what a mighty fine form it is. this one's near dirge-like in its slowness, but rather than predictably play it up by pairing it with crushing chords, they'll opt for something a little more highbrow. florian's drumming, which always sounds remarkably crisp and pushed up in the mix, has fucking brilliantly thought out timing with the bass, which gives the song a heavier sound than it really has when that bass is joined by the kick drum on the chorus. müller's vocals come off a lot more fragile here, and it's almost like he's straining to be, well, restrained. in a song that's already remarkable, the best things about this, to me, are those periodic instances when the instruments will (mostly) drop off (save for a droning bass and light cymbal taps), allowing for an ethereal "ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh" to rise up from the track's depths to compliment max's subdued vocals, which are more plainly spoken than they are sung. humor is just a gorgeous piece of music, while not actually being pretty, though, wait, the ambient music and warm vinyl fuzz that accounts for the outro is actually pretty, so, whatever.

michael begins with a repetitive, bouncing, bassline and ambient background drones. about forty or so seconds later a drum roll enters which will usher in a completely different song. the bass, while similar, is more memorable, less simplistic, and the ambiance is removed entirely. the bass / drums combo will account for the instrumentation's only semblance of cohesion as the other guitars will each occupy their own stereo channel and, mostly, proffer what seems like improvised chord-based noise and drones, while the bass repeats itself infinitely. there's not much of a discernible chorus until the second half of this four minute track pretty much turns into one, with solemn background chants of "mee-cull" being issued underneath max's own, and decidedly more animated, spin on how "michael" should be pronounced.

the droning and distorted bass chords which open up ich weiß ich weiß ich weiß (i white i white i white i know i know i know) may be nice attention grabbers, especially the way they swing to and fro like a pendulum, but once that drumming starts, it's clear where the focus lies. it's not always what florian's doing, necessarily, but just how prominently featured the percussion is; it's hard to ignore loud, rapid succession thumping. for not featuring that many different aspects, this is a little on the long side at five and a half minutes. when müller isn't speaking his lyrics, he's basically just shouting out "ich weiß" endlessly. there is a hypnotic nature to the simplicity of the guitars and the steady rhythm being pounded out. feedback and swirling ambiance pop up in the track's midsection, but aside from that they'll carry on in the same manner as before, the key difference, early on in the second half, being an even more relaxed vocal delivery which causes all of the other instruments to drop off in amplitude to match.

as if to atone for the relative stagnancy of ich weiß ich weiß ich weiß, mutter present us with the impressive alles (everything). i don't speak deutsch so fuck if i know what max is going on about, but i assume the alles here has to do with what they included in this song. goddamn. after an unassuming few seconds of repetitive chords, distorted noise and droning feedback, there's florian bludgeoning the kit with killer, hollow drum hits which are matched by noisy, semi-mechanical sounding riffs and squealing feedback. it all comes in these ten second bursts which are connected to each other via feedback in the left channel and bass droning in the right. once they've established this terrific pattern things will change up halfway through with rapidly undulating electronic pulsations and a wonderful synth melody. they'll abandon that after only a minute or so, but that change of pace was a great kick in the ass for a song that already sounded rad.

mutter's rhythm section will slow the pace down considerably for ich bin er (i am he), and while they'll do a good job of that, the greatest aspect of this song comes from absolutely sick guitar drones; the other bass is textural, distorted and pushed to the background. i love the fact that they'll build this song around winding drones that sound like a single engine plane. beautiful. occasionally, florian will bust up the calm with solitary drum hits that sound like.. i guess like throwing fluorescent light tubes against a brick wall, but, hmm, i'm not sure how universal that description is. oh well, use your imagination. i'm torn between how i feel about this jarring facet, but even when i'm leaning towards disliking it, that doesn't come close to offseting how great those guitar drones are.
(shitty album art doesn't always mean shitty music)

the only time on du bist that i'm iffy about the drumming is on ihr größter wunsch (their biggest desire), it's just a little too basic: kick drum every second, a snare / snare combination every five and a little light cymbal play thrown in for good measure. it's a shame because the slow seesawing (and tremoloed) guitar is, conversely, terrific in its simplicity. between the drums and a muddled, ascending bassline, mutter squanders what could've been a more solid effort. the final couple of minutes which features a sample of a child speaking, set solely to drums and bass (which occasionally stop dead in their tracks), could've been chopped out since six and a half minutes is a little on the unnecessary side for something like this. it's a decent affair, for sure, but by this point the bar's been raised to high for middling work.

the three and a half minutes of sorgen (ensure) are kind of like a sonic assault and the main culprit is the guitar which emits elongated descending chords that are akin to the cry of bombs being dropped.. over and over and over. when that's coupled with the repetition of the chorus, it can make you feel a little tense and anxious. this track definitely has the feel of being in opposition of wunsch since, this time, the bass and drums are both tremendous, providing a terrific soundscape for behnke's manic noise.

the faster paced songs on du bist work well to showcase mutter's range, but the times when they've slowed it down, as they will for wie füreinander gemacht (you're on your own with this one, sorry), the results have been great. helping out a very subdued percussive effort, which relies more on steadily tapped cymbals than the actual drums, are two droning guitars (of varying length) amidst a memorable guitar loop which serves as an anchor. when the sober chants (which won't relent) of wie füreinander gemacht start up in the track's midsection, the percussion will pick up in momentum as well, eventually being joined by a squall of panning guitar distortion and feedback.

in a style similar to alles, was du schon immer hören wolltest, mutter will bring the album to a close with its titular track. it will begin with a grounding layer of quasi-dark droning ambiance and then bring in some toe-tap worthy acoustic strumming (sounds like an unplugged electric guitar), sing-along vocals, knocking percussion, a tambourine and eventually an electric piano, which will be followed closely by drumming that would seem like it had been pre-programmed on a keyboard, if it weren't for the deep, full sound of the kick drum... had they kept the piano and drums out of this one it would've worked a bit better, but i won't fault them for ending a (predominately) earnest album with a few minutes of levity.

despite the fact that du bist straddles a line between a few different genres, i feel like it's an album that could, even eighteen years after the fact, make a huge impact on a plethora of people nowadays, should they ever become aware of it. incredibly, mutter are still together, though lacking two original members, max's picked up four three others in michael fröhlich, achim treu, harry coltello and tom scheutzlich, and they released an album last year. i'm usually leery of old bands who keep making music (i'm alluding to you, sonic youth), but i miiiiiiight make an exception since i've seen it get high marks on both rym and discogs and am easily impressed by number ratings, apparently. we'll see. in the interim, do yourself a favor and snag this album. there's also a dvd documentary of the band that i wouldn't mind picking up at some point.

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die kinder gehen alle tot (from 1997's konzerte 1986 - 1991)

:: posted by apc, 11:27 PM

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mutter - du bist nicht mein bruder (1993)
minimal man - the shroud of (1981)