Dancer Vs. Politician – A City Half-Lost

Dancer Vs. Politician
A City Half-Lost

Athens, Georgia may not jump out on the map as an epicenter of multiculturalism, but that’s exactly the location German-born Sanni Baumgaertner chose as her adopted home after years of crisscrossing the Atlantic. Nearly a decade after first visiting the stomping grounds of the B-52’s and R.E.M. as an exchange student, she declared Athens her semi-permanent base, not to mention one of the primary recording locales of her first offering under the Dancer Vs. Politician namesake.

Already well versed in the pseudo-German cabaret genre of her former outfit, Audition, Baumgaertner seems perfectly at home working with a pop palate here. She may be the voice and mind behind Dancer Vs. Politician, but Baumgaertner has plenty of help from seasoned veterans of at least four other bands on this record. Horn solos, glockenspiel melodies, and string harmonies are all used to the hilt, and the singing saw even makes an occasional appearance. Suffice it to say that Baumgaertner has some fairly precious and fragile moments on A City Half-Lost, no doubt due to the influence that groups such as Azure Ray and Belle & Sebastian have had on her. The album may lack the pinched vocals of standard twee-pop, but fluffy atmospheres and a sense of sugary nostalgia are all over the place.

The album’s first three tracks are all sung in German. The opener, “Mach Dich Los,” feels very much like a prelude, as Baumgaertner’s unfussy vocals float over a gently plucked electric guitar and a melancholic string quartet. There is nary a rhythm section to be found, giving the illusion that perhaps a tune with a bit more jangle and pomp might be just around the corner. By the time “Mond & Stern” finally commences though, it feels more like the main event was skipped over; what remains is an afterthought of ambient keyboard pulsations that sounds more like some of the most downtempo moments of Portishead or Björk. Compared to the first two songs, “Keine Zeit” seems pretty self-assured with its midtempo surf-rock beat, glockenspiel countermelody, and chiming guitars, but the saw keeps the drama intact as it drones on along like a siren.

The album’s first cut to feature vocals in English is pure indie-pop bliss. “Justin Fairborn” doesn’t sound terribly original, but with some obligatory handclaps and a wistful trumpet solo, there’s something about the track that makes it a fine candidate for music of the changing seasons. Yet, it seems as though the song is meant to build to a fantastic climax of galloping drums and affirmations of joy. The moment never arrives, and it’s then you realize that the song, much like the rest of the album, plateaus pretty early on.

The anti-climactic moments continue through the sputtering electronics of “Hochtief” and the lyrical complacency of “Happiness.” It is not until we arrive at “Neuer Morgen, Neuer Tag” that the band finally begins to raise the stakes a little bit. With just a shaker providing some simple percussive subdivision, the song builds to a fantastic outro of synths, glock, and mildly distorted guitar that makes for the most texturally engaging minute on the entire disc. Next up is “Wet Leaves,” where we find dissonant and sustained piano chords creating something that, though downright creepy, is far more eccentric than anything else on the previous eight tracks.

Some say that the most riveting music has clearly defined peaks and valleys of emotion; a contour that keeps the thrills coming and the monotony away. You could liken it to the difference between a drive on I-70 through Kansas and one on Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Without some sort of change in the topography, you find yourself succumbing to a hypnotic lull over time. It would be hard to dispute that Sanni Baumgaertner knows how to craft some breathtaking landscapes with her music. Hushed vocals, lush string harmonies, reverb-laden keyboards, and electronic drums work well for her on A City Half-Lost, but without some sort of emotional or dynamic range, the beauty starts to numb you up after the first 15 minutes.