Album Review: Einstürzende Neubauten’s ‘Rampen (apm: Alien Pop Music)’ is an atmospheric, extra-terrestrial sonic masterpiece.

The Breakdown

'Rampen (apm: Alien Pop Music)' is Einstürzende Neubauten at their very best - there is an accessibility about it with melodies and rhythmic patterns, and yet the band continues to push sonic boundaries and create a perfect alien other-worldly universe of twisted sounds and ghostly apparitions.
Independent 9.0

‘Rampen’ (rocket launching pad) is the name for the improvisations that occur during live performances of Einstürzende Neubauten: the springboard for innovation and creativity. It forms the basis for the new album that was born out of temporal necessity and other exigencies when a decision was made by the band about recording again following 2020’s ‘Alles In Allem’. In my recent interview with Blixa Bargeld, he says:

It was clear that Alexander Hacke the bass player and a key player in the musical development wouldn’t have much time so we had to find a pragmatic solution to make a record, but doing it in less time. Normally we take a year to do a record – not every day but a week here, a week there, but we were able to do all the basic track recordings within three months. We decided to use the improvisations that we do on stage.

In this sense, the music captures more than ever the inherent creativity born from a live stage: pure innovation that has not had time to over cook in the oven.

‘Alien Pop Music’ is an epithet for the work of Einstürzende Neubauten and, indeed, this new album is a collection of tracks that flirt with a pop sensibility more than any of their previous works. Fear not: that doesn’t make it amount to commercial pop or make it insubstantial – there just seems a little more light cast into the world.

Bargeld says of the title addition:

 I saw two different strains of thought.

One was to say I had created a new genre and to make it another ‘stream’ as there is no mainstream anymore, and we make another popular music stream other than the one that borders on populism. We created one for the aliens living on the planet, the ones who are not part of anything else. They are entitled to have their own pop music (laughs)The other strain, we are the Beatles in another parallel universe (laughs). I just thought it funny to put Einstürzende Neubauten in the context of pop music, because nobody does that.

If there is any themes that runs through the album, it is a series of erudite questions about where we are heading – directions of travel, possibilities and ways of expressing ourselves. at the heart, a degree of uncertainty that feeds into the alien pop music – fractured, anxious sounds leavened at times by rays of melodic sunshine. Bargeld says:

I can definitely see that my preferred themes or metaphors are vested here once again. I use a lot of scientific language, a lot of scientific metaphors especially from biology and astronomy, geology too. There is a lot about identity, distance and there is a lot about language and linguistics and there is of course mythology as a means of transportation of ideas that have no language.

The album launches with the relatively bright pop of ‘Wie lange noch?’ (How Much Longer?) that seems to segue into a lilting Celtic sound at one point.

With a heartbeat pulse and little slivers of noise, ‘Ist Ist’ (‘Actual’) commences with a driving bass thrum and Bargeld’s iconic delivery. Very much drawing on their muscular industrial crunch with the prowling ambiance, there is a lightning flash with an ambulant piano that wanders around in the ether before the track reaches a clanging finale, a crescendo that leaves us hanging with a droning thrum and a neat return to the chorus.

The themes are about mysteriously searching for meaning:

I’ve been to Niagara Falls
I’ve been to both great walls
but it wasn’t there
It wasn’t there
No, it was not there

The accompanying video highlights the percussive foundation with a Nosferatu-like silhouette of the drummer:

Haunting strings introduce ‘Pestalozzi’ with a cacophony of buzzing as Bargeld almost calls out like a Imam before singing a sweet melody over a male chorus buzzing in the background. At one stage Bargeld recounts a recipe with ingredients – recalling his famous synchronised cooking sessions he gave on-line during lockdown. This is an immersive, anthemic track – referencing the philosopher Pestalozzi who believed that education should develop the powers of ‘Head’, ‘Heart’ and ‘Hands’. He believed that this would help create individuals who are capable of knowing what is right and what is wrong and of acting according to this knowledge.

Bargeld whispers seductively over the dappled sounds of ‘Es könnte sein’ (It Could Be That), a sound that become circular and hypnotic as an undercurrent to the song. There is a surreal element to the track as it spins off into the ether – strange noises like a steam hammer punctuating, interrupting the repetition.

‘Before I Go’ has a light patter with Bargeld’s dry delivery (I put a cryptic message on the door), whereas ‘Isso Isso’ has a kick drum knock with sparkled metallic chimes and a gentle refrain – it prowls and circles like a caged animal.

‘Besser Isses’ (It’s Better) clatters with an abrasive frisson, clattering percussion and an insistent bass upon which sounds drape. The songs burns like a fuse until it reaches a crescendo, Bargeld’s cheeky sardonic laugh filtering through at one point..

Taut strangulated strings and gurgling sounds introduce ‘Everything will be fine’ as Bargeld whispered gravelly voice enters, creating a dark brooding atmosphere until Bargeld sings the title as a sweeping contrast – an element of sarcasm in the tone. The sky high chorus creates an interesting contrast with the darker tones of the verses.

‘The Pit of Language’ creates layers of droning vocals with an Ennio Morricone whistle that fades in and out. There is a familiarity about the themes of languages and words that form a thread through the band’s work – being buried in words, symbols and fragments recalling Bargeld’s use of cards to bring together his lyrics (see my 2020 interview here).

‘Planet Umbra’ is a Kraftwerkian track with its bright airy compressed plonking as Bargeld sings we cast no shadows on Planet Umbra. Its a circular repetitive, hypnotic track with a motorik flow and an aquatic bubble.

A companion piece in a way to ‘The Pit Of Language’, ‘Tar & Feathers’ is based on haunting vocalisations redolent of Mongolian throat singing and whispered voices: it’s more an atmospheric intermission of sounds and noises that hum and thrum in the peripheries of consciousness like a nightmare. When Bargeld’s voice enters, in English, it is dreamy and wry as he ends with the words I wait in the pit of language before I get tarred and feathered… I tried to drag myself out. It feels like some dystopian nightmare.

A falsetto voice echoes above a rumbling bass, creating another ominous track in ‘Aus den Zeiten’ (From The Times) as Bargeld’s sardonic vocals coast over the surface and the background clatter reaches a crescendo and then disappears – ebbing and flowing, advancing and receding. The repetition of the vocals becomes hypnotic.

‘Ick wees nich (Noch nich)’ (I don’t know, not yet’) clatters and bangs with a pattering percussion and booming of-stage thunder. It’s a threatening soundscape where Bargeld’s vocals are cold and distant as sheet metal clangs punctuate the air like some industrial complex in flow flow. The mind’s eye sees the spark of welding and the wielding of hammers in rubber aprons.

Acoustic guitars ripple under Bargeld’s storytelling in ‘Trilobiten’ with just a hint of more abstract sounds hovering in the air – a touch of accordion and a rolling bass create a reflective melancholy track that slowly sparks.

‘Gesundbrunnen’ – one of the tracks Bargeld says he is most looking forward playing live – starts off with a clatter of sounds and Bargeld’s vocals calling out amongst the shards of sounds – enigmatic and atmospheric with the instruments seemingly breathing in and out and wheezing like some massive mechanical steam punk monster with asthma. It is a track that prowls and lurks in the darkness.

‘Rampen (apm: Alien Pop Music)’ is Einstürzende Neubauten at their very best – there is an accessibility about it with melodies and rhythmic patterns, and yet the band continues to push sonic boundaries and create a perfect alien other-worldly universe of twisted sounds and ghostly apparitions.

The album is out today and can be downloaded and streamed through the above link, here and via all the usual channels. Meanwhile, catch the band live across Europe – details below.

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1 Comment

  1. […] Bargeld in an interview with Backseat Maffia about the LP’s title with : “I saw two different strains of thought. One was to say I […]

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