With this feature we focus our attention on an album that may not have gotten the recognition and accolades it deserves. It might be a cult hit, a little-known favorite, or an album that is just so great, we feel it needs all of the attention possible. Albums chosen for this feature were released five years ago or more and are chosen at the writer’s discretion.
Marcus Schmickler from Cologne, Germany formed the “band” Pluramon in 1996, assembling a revolving line-up of top-notch female vocalists to guest star on a run of 5 albums. Fourth album Dreams Top Rock, released in 2003, made inroads internationally and featured vocal muse Julee Cruise of Twin Peaks theme fame.
The Monstrous Surplus builds on the bedrock of that previous album, continuing to employ the lovely, haunting vocals of Julee Cruise, and adding even more coolly bewitching vocals from Julia Hammer and Jutta Koether. Most of the vocals are processed to some extent, so it’s difficult to pick out which songstress graces each song (Discogs can help with that.), but the overall effect is mesmerizing and in keeping with the dream-pop genre.
On the instrumental tip, Marcus captures and manipulates the indie-pop/rock, guitar and synths-driven sound of the early 1990s and beyond, layering a hypnotic glaze of melodic to abrasive sounds on top of the traditional pop and rock song structure cake. Lyrics wax on about the beauty and breakdown of love and art, floating above, and sometimes amid, the gift-wrapped sonics.
Album opener “Turn In” is awash in dreamy synths, sinuous guitar lines, the occasional drum beat, and a tambourine aftertaste. Julee Cruise’s sweetly breathy, child-like sing-talking vocals evoke the atmosphere of an AIR song as heightened synth notes increase in vibrancy and create shivers of pleasure.
The lysergic start of “Border” revels in liquid-like strummed guitars, quivering mandolin, and sporadic, echoed wooden clacks. Marcus’s unassuming vocal talk twins with Julia Hummer’s baby’s breath vocals as they sing “There’s beauty in breakdown.” The song opens up with a sweep of deeper guitar scuds and tear-glistening synth notes that lift it up to the sky.
Julia Hummer’s soft, calmly lulling vocals (“I will never let you down…”), laconic beats, and prominent tambourine rattle contrast with arcing, reverberating guitar distortion, slowly building up in intensity, on “If Time was on My Side”. A quick current of grimy electronic blips and bass come to the fore on the rock number “Drowning in You” as layered waves of high-sighing vocals from Julee Cruise surge into airiness on certain words. Catherine Wheel-like circling guitars, insistent synths, and a harder beat add propulsion as the song crests with the line “I am not alone.”
Western guitar reverb takes a bow on the slower-paced “Snow Blow”, as attenuated synth notes hover in the backdrop. Julee Cruise’s clear vocals brace against a pile up of sharply spinning guitars, strong beats, and constant cymbal crash that settles back down to guitar strum by song’s end.
A seething press of low, gritty organ notes, kinetic drums, and cymbal shimmer create a noisy, but compelling ambience on “Fresh Aufhebung”. Dispassionate spoken word from Jutta Koether posit that life is “…a search for an unconditional art… / as in unconditional love.” If 604-era Ladytron really let go and rocked out, this would be the result.
Buzzy and shearing synths, hard guitar notes, and plainer vocals from Julia Hummer glaze over a darkly menacing cover of “If the Kids are United” (“…they will never be divided.”), while on the opposite end, “Fishing” revels in a glorious mélange of q-chord, synth wash, My Bloody Valentinesque grinding guitar, androgynous vocals from Marcus, and hazy lyrics that are up to listener interpretation (Is he sing-talking “I was making wishes”, or “…faking dishes”, or maybe “…vacant fishing”…?!)
Album-ender “So?” is a trippy, sustained, elevated dream of warped, high-pitched q-chord, distorted guitar grind, slow beat, revolutions of blissful male vocal “Ahhhs”, and Jutta Koether’s clear intonation that “I’m going out and will be coming back… / I’ll see you and treat you to a dream for free.”