Although it can be wrong to lump together and describe a music scene from one nation, particularly when its artists might be spread across several cities, record labels and generations, sometimes when collective traits are highlighted in a positive light it can be considered acceptable. In terms of the German electronic and experimental fraternity, which stretches its origins back to the late-‘60s at least, it seems like there is indeed a common and shared capacity for longevity, rejuvenation and imagination. Certainly, the elder statesmen dispersed amongst the Kraftwerk, Can, Neu!, Cluster et al. clans have used it well to keep creativity alive beyond most artists’ natural career spans. It’s also undoubtedly sustaining outfits from more recent Germanic music generations. So even though Ronald Lippok and Bernd Jestram have been functioning as Tarwater since 1995, across ten or so albums, it doesn’t feel like they have run out of ideas and lustre yet. In fact, this new eleventh long-player could be the twosome’s strongest in some time.
Loosely inspired but not bogged down by a shelved ‘space opera’ concept, Inside The Ships continues the obsessions that Tarwater’s aforementioned forefathers have had; specifically with imaginary futures that are both sophisticated and chilling. But the album isn’t merely a clunky update of retro-futurology. Instead, Lippok and Jestram have forged eleven dark-witted and atmospheric pieces that combine disparate elements from both vintage and modern sources; blurring rock and non-rock instrumentation, blending the synthetic with the organic, mixing the played with the programmed and melding multiple genres.
The opening “Photographed” sets the scene expertly with Lippok’s baritone deadpanning somewhere between Iggy Pop and Alan Vega over a pulsing drone, a robotic beat and what sounds weirdly like a sample from The Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic.” Things only get more exotic and diverse from thereon in, as the title-track feeds low-mixed brass into fizzing synths, with Lippok giving what appear to be instructions on future-age dance routines over the top. The ensuing “Radio Wars” pays a derivative but diligently delivered homage to Kraftwerk’s eerie Radioactivity LP, which is easily surpassed by the wonderful wordless “In A Day,” with its jittering tropical percussion and muffled trumpets fusing into a middle eastern dronescape. The delicate and brief “Now And Again” finds the twosome in a sparse duet that recalls Windsor For The Derby, before the mechanical drums and Speak & Spell vocals of “Get On” flash us back again to Kraftwerk (this time to around The Man Machine/Computer World era).
Things become even more eccentric as the album moves through its latter half. Hence an obscure John and Yoko b-side (“Do The Oz”) is rendered in a slow motion terpsichorean arrangement; the elemental and murmuring “Furkan” marries meditative percussion to a woozy saxophone and drunken electronics; a throbbing take on DAF’s “Sato Sato” is rolled in a rubbery ball of lo-fi Teutonic techno (complete with marching band brass and a mandolin line that sounds cribbed from The Faces’ “Maggie May”); and “There Never Was A Night” resides in a ghostly primitive electro and jazz-slanted bubble. The closing “Palace At 5 AM” – based on a Charles Baudelaire poem – brings proceedings almost full circle, to a similar setting as the inaugural “Photographed,” albeit with tenser beats threatening to burst through its crust.
For all its sonic roaming and mulching, Inside The Ships holds together surprisingly well as a combined entity. It may almost be deliberately obtuse at times, yet it’s been painstakingly constructed to keep embedding melodic hooks, which will draw you back again and again to its black humoured take on fictional futurama.
Tarwater – “Inside The Ships”