Funny story here. I was sent three Tocotronic discs (two of which are reviewed here) many months ago, and I immediately made the no. 1 grievous error of any music fan or critic: I judged an album by it’s cover. And it’s band name, album title, song titles, record label, etc. Surely, this was an album’s worth of German techno, and I was going to hate it.
See, here’s why I thought that. First, the band name sounds electronic, with the whole “tronic” part. Then the album title sounded futuristic, and the cover art and inside artwork reaffirmed that. The song titles were long and fairly abstract, as happens on techno albums, and the label L’age D’or I knew of as a German label that has released several volumes of German and European techno. To make things worse, one of the Tocotronic albums was one song remixed several times. So surely you can’t blame me here, right?
Boy was I wrong and delightfully shocked by how much I like Tocotronic. From Germany, this band plays a style of indie rock that’s more comparable to bands like Idlewild and Travis. Take their style of mid-tempo indie rock with strong vocals – deep but sung in English – and add to it some mild guitar distortion and keyboards to provide a sort of spacey backdrop that’s not overpowering, and you get Tocotronic’s music. Some songs are slower and slightly loungy, others mid-paced behind a flurry of guitars.
The title track starts, and the repeated initials lead me to believe the band is really saying “ok” forwards and backwards as opposed to referring to some phrase. But it’s an oddity as the album really starts with the slower “Misfortune Must be Fought Back,” a kind of plodding song centered around an emphatic guitar and bass line and the rather morose vocals singing “it’s more and more and more and more unbearable.” “Jackpot” is the first more rocking track, with a barrage of driving guitars and heavy use of keyboards, and “The Boundaries of Good Taste 1” is almost poppy, with its use of keyboards, the sounds of crowds cheering, and the “woo-hoo” vocals. To make matters even more interesting, “Let There Be Rock,” my favorite track, is slightly Beatles-esque through its use of trumpets over the guitar-rock and the catchy chorus. In the interest of expediting things, we’ll breeze through the album’s remaining 13, songs, pointing out favorites “The Gift,” a building 7-minute track that’s quite intense; “Beyond the Canal” is more mellow and steady, and the vocals really shine here; “Thought Around the Corner” has some Pavement-esque guitars and vocal styles to it, as does “The Boundaries of Good Taste 2.” There’s also the German language “Ja” to close things off.
I’m not sure who Console is, but now we get the techno. I knew it was coming. Yes, this is the same bandon this 7-song EP, all remixing “Freiburg,” which is included here in its original German language version, with crashing drums and a more driving intensity. It appears the band takes a stab at remixing it with “Freiburg v3.0,” and then a number of other people get in on the job, turning out over 30 minutes of electronic beats and vocodor style vocals. As you might expect, the tracks all sound pretty similar, since they all take the same song, and many get long and repetitive. Fans of The Faint might appreciate this, as it is based in rock, but only the original is enjoyable in a pure rock sense.
Apparently, K.O.O.K. is also available with German lyrics through Lado Music, but I’m guessing even that version is German techno, although I’m still surprised. This is good stuff, music I am certain I never would have heard if I didn’t get it a chance. There’s a powerful lesson to be learned here, kids. But I have no idea what that lesson is.