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Tarwater
Adrift Nick Hutchings , December 12th, 2014 14:01

Berlin's electro-acoustic somnambulists Tarwater covered 'We All Stand' from New Order's Power, Corruption & Lies in 2012. The pace and sobriety of that tune fitted this band like a well-worn driving glove, the veteran of many a twilit autobahn. 'The Tape', opener on Adrift includes the lyrics "I'm not looking for a channel, I'm just looking for a tape" and "it's almost midnight, so try and smile and play back the tape". It feels like a second cousin to the sentiment contained in 'Your Silent Face' also on New Order's Power, Corruption & Lies – "sound formed in a vacuum may seem a waste of time. It's always been just the same. No hearing, or breathing. No movement, no lyrics. Just nothing".

Ronald Lippok's monotone but insistent singing has the air of Ian Curtis rather than the gritted teeth optimism of Bernard Sumner, but the message is the same. The music of Tarwater need you the listener to be on the journey, however icy that journey is, to give it credence, and give it an anchor of warmth or as Lippok goes onto sing: "resistance to continued collapse". Tarwater's music is not meant to exist in a vacuum.

The cover artwork of Adrift features pastel coloured squares superimposed on a deserted airport. Although the geometrical artwork has ghostly echoes of the sleeve of New Order's Lost Sirens, this is all about a haunting representation of isolation, given beauty by design. It's an image captured by Lippok's brother and To Rococo Rot bandmate Robert of their hometown's now defunct Tempelhof airport. The title song 'Adrift' and its quivering zither could easily come from Mogwai's soundtrack to Les Revenants or be the intro to DJ Shadow's 'Midnight In A Perfect World', but if 'The Tape' was all about a soul cut adrift but captured in posterity, then 'Adrift' is the perfect accompaniment to a landscape that's left behind, except in Lippok's lens.

The gloom continues in 'The Glove', it's rolling deep timpani and light Eno squelch only punctuated by a looped flute that sounds like a snowbird rising into the frost bitten air. The mood is lightened like the low winter sun making an accustomed brief appearance on instrumental interlude 'Devon Saturday'.

'Stone In Exile' continues the natural ambience with electronic pulses that sound like the plop of pebbles on a shallow shore. Vocally Lippok comes on like a Mogadon Karl Hyde emitting a stream of consciousness with vaporous vitriol, talking of "wampires", or wannabe vampires who "couldn't make it on trick blood".

Tarwater have often been labeled post-rock or indeed math-rock, yet being literate feels more important to being numerate in the case of Adrift. The album features four songs using assimilated texts by poets befriended by the band. The most striking of these is on 'Homology, Myself'. Viennese-Berliner Ann Cotten reads about the impossible task of being a robot in 'Homology, Myself'. Her annunciation has such clockwork clarity that if you listened to this track while in state of semi-consciousness like a self-help tape you may awaken as an academic android. The words were not spoken in unison with the music, which was recorded afterwards. However, the union between the two is not mechanical it's totally organic, and spellbindingly so.

The lopsided loops and sounds of digital decay 'Coconut Signal' are complemented by the ruminations of Lippok who now sounds like Mark E Smith on the go-slow, his voice an extra instrument to add to the glacial texture. The monotonous gloop of words on 'Log Of The Sloop' also add texture to the metronomic bleeps, whose layers gradually build to a bewildering morass.

For a record that is ostensibly minimalist, there's a lot going on, layer upon layer of loops, found sound and electronic soul. There are even seasonal sleigh bells amongst the elegant shimmer of 'The Evening Pilgrims'. If the sun is going down on the desolate winter scape in the song 'Ray', then it's setting in the East. These continue into the album's ethereal eclipse, 'Rice & Fish' where laconic Lippok is dappled by the delicate voice of a compatriot, known as Milenasong.

Adrift is a simultaneously relaxing and arresting experience. It's headphone music that rewards encapsulated ears and enclosed eyes. The production is deliberately understated, the songs carefully crafted yet totally natural. It's beauteous, but not ruinous. It's brooding, yet it's optimistic; a musical departure on a ghost flight from a barren airport into the warmer centre of your soul.

     

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