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Einstürzende Neubauten
Alles in Allem Adam Lehrer , May 22nd, 2020 08:49

Alles in Allem, translated as 'All in All', is Einstürzende Neubauten’s most compulsively lisenable album to date. The group’s first full-length of new material since 2007’s Alles wieder offen, Alles in Allem finds Neubauten at their most melodic, lush, and textured. The apocalyptic industrial of early masterpieces like Kollaps or Halber Mensch has been subbed out in favour of lush string arrangements, majestic synth melodies, and Blixa Bargeld’s refined singing. The elevation in the sophistication of its musicality has been a persistent theme for Neubauten since the late nineties, and those that still fetishise the band for the pulverisations of its early albums are robbing themselves of the joys associated with Neubauten’s more compositionally inclined later career phase.

As Brandon Stosuy detected in his 2008 review of Alles wieder offen for a href="" target="out">Pitchfork, this “Isn’t the Neubauten of your childhood.” This is a band in adulthood, and ageing is an inevitability. The best you can do is age gracefully; hold onto a piece of what thrilled you as a child, but broaden your perspective wide enough to entertain new ways of thinking and living. Not many artists have made music over the course of decades and held onto not just their dignity, but their relish for creation that brought them to rock 'n’ roll in the first place. Nick Cave has. And in his curmudgeonly and booze besotten manner, so had Mark E. Smith, before his passing. Neubauten too continue to make music that is compelled by an exuberant creativity and a fascinated disposition.

Though Neubauten’s music has been endowed with a kind of splendour and nobility on Alles in Allem, it still adheres to some fundamental formal flourishes that the Neubauten project was constructed atop of: dissonance, sheet metal, and the bastardisation of genre. Neubauten remain stubbornly genre-averse and fiercely modernist. Mark Fisher said after seeing a Neubauten performance in the mid-00s that in contrast to the “Safe refuge of Wire-feted experimentalism,” they trade in “genuine experimentalism”: “Things could go wrong, discoveries could be made.” This is what makes Neubauten enduringly enrapturing decades into their career. Alles in Allem is a more pleasant listen than one would typically associate with the Neubauten brand. Within that refined accessibility, however, they remain playful and manically experimental.

A squiggle of electronic noise opens ‘Ten Grand Goldie’ before a syrupy bassline provides the beat for Bargeld’s funky delivery. It’s almost like a version of dance music for men who have seen too much and lived too long. There is a mournful quality to tracks like ‘Zivilisatorisches Misgeschick’: a contemplative organ line runs underneath Blixa’s musings, saturated with sorrow. The track then utilises the ferocious experimentation that Neubauten are best known for, with psychotic dirges of atonal sound and disorienting samples that splice in and punctuate the tracks’ quieter parts.

Bargeld’s vocals are impressive throughout, yielding an expressive tone that reminds one of a German David Thomas. Adopting a tranquil croon rife of libidinal and mischievous suggestion, Bargeld’s voice anchors the group’s chaotic disposition. On that David Thomas note, Pere Ubu’s more sonically motley work is a strong touchstone overall. The title track, for instance, equally disperses catchy melodies and alien sound effects. The guitar rumbles on ‘Grazer Damm’ have that subtly psychedelic effect of Dick Dale, in which formal convention belies dizzying sonic fragmentation. The title track opens with a haunting soundscape in which droned out bass notes compete for attention with eerie flurries of synth noise before Bargeld’s organ-esque keyboard harmonies set the tone for his impassioned vocal delivery. “Under the border hangs a devourer of light, a second face inscribed at its rear, its young creeps in dialogue behind,” read Bargeld’s lyrics, translated into english.

Bargeld adopted his pseudonym after the early 20th Century German painter and poet Johannes Theodor Baargeld, who founded the German Dada group alongside Max Ernst. Bargeld’s lyricism has long luxuriated in the autodidacticism of the Dadaist approach; the lyrics always follow the compositions of Neubauten’s music, and Bargeld says that he “doesn’t write about anything” but that his “thoughts find their way into the songs.” But Baargeld died a very young man, while Bargeld is still at his artistic peak into his sixties. Bargeld’s trajectory as a writer illustrates how a dadaist approach can sharpen and come to embody a specific narrative form. Alles in Allem hosts some of Bargeld’s most evocative, absurd, and vivid prose.

The opening lines of ‘Ten Grand Goldie’ read in English as: “Fatherfiguretraitor and mothercornflowerblue, here come the daughters of the desert and the sons of snakes.” Ambiguous, but rife with narrative suggestion. Whereas Bargeld’s former bandmate and comrade Nick Cave wields the ability to take on the point of view of vividly constructed characters — ‘Stagger Lee’ and so forth — Bargeld seems to take on the point of view of personified abstractions. “What are we seeking in your dreams?” asks Bargeld on ‘Taschen’: “We seek nothing, we’re waiting, we’re waiting, between us and you, surge the waves colossal, a ravenous monstrosity.” What is this “ravenous monstrosity?” The emotional distance between humans? The inability to grasp the totality of humanity in the other? Let’s just say, I feel blessed that this press copy of Alles in Allem came with English translations of Bargeld’s lyrics; one can’t grasp the depth of Neubauten’s spectacular otherness without delving into Bargeld’s idiosyncratic texts.

During Neubauten’s early career, the group signalled what they saw as The End… Of music… Of western civilisation. As Simon Reynolds once wrote of the band, “The logical step for Neubauten would have been to disappear, or die.” And while the end of the world has been a persistent slow roll, Neubauten keep progressing. The death of civilisation needn’t coincide with the death of creativity. This is one of the most compulsively listenable albums that Neubauten have ever produced, and the band still manages to jar and shock its listeners with a bewildering array of otherworldly sounds. Accessible doesn’t always mean safe or boring. Neubauten are still a genre bastard, and I dare you to name another band this deep into their career still expanding their palette to such an extreme degree.