It's hard to believe, but The Notwist have been around for almost 10 years. Their first albums found them mainly playing around with harder edged guitars, but subsequently adding new sounds to their sonic palette. With each album, they progressed just a little bit more, until they started showing off quite a bit of amazing talent on their Shrink release from 1998. Unfortunately, that album only received a little critical acclaim, and the domestic label they were on (Zero Hour) subsequently went out-of-business virtually rendering almost all their albums out-of-print.
After a couple year hiatus, the group is back with Neon Golden, and it's a little bit ironic and somewhat frustrating with this new release (which is easily the best effort from the group), they now have no U.S. distributor (April of 2002). With a healthy dose of the organic and electronic, and just the right amount of pop sensibility, the 10 tracks on Neon Golden find the group extending their musical boundaries even more. Nothing is off limits, whether they're mixing banjos and glitch, electro-pop, stringed instruments, or downtempo.
Even with all the amazing instrumentation, one of the anchors of every track are the vocals of Marcus Acher. With Lali Puna and now this release by the Notwist, Marcus Acher has a hand in two of the better electronic groups doing music right now. While in Lali Puna, his vocals take back seat to Valerie Trebeljahr, but here he shows that he's a solid presence as well. On the opening track of "One Step Inside Doesn't Mean You Understand," the instrumentation is created from a chopped-up string quartet and some subtle french horn over a bed of electronics, and Acher adds slightly delicate vocals that hold everything together. On "Pilot" (the first single from the disc), the group takes a decidingly more upbeat approach, creating a track that gives a sly nod to earlier New Order, as well as infusing the sound with some more modern touches.
Musically, the album is always throwing something different at the listener. On "Pick Up The Phone," the group mixes in some almost crunchy IDM beats alongside more subtle horns while "Trashing Days" tosses the aforementioned banjo in with a nice upright bass and some more slick beats. "Solitare" adds some super-lush strings to the mix while the album-titled track starts out with only an acoustic guitar and vocals by Acher, but slowly morphs into an electronic meltdown. The album closes out with two of the most lovely tracks that I've heard in some time with "Off The Rails" and "Consequences." Again, the group toss all kinds of things into the mix (plucked strings, blips and bleeps) and show that electronic music can indeed have a heart. In the closing moments Acher sings, 'Leave me hypnotized, love/Leave me paralyzed, love' and although it's a great ending to an excellent disc, it also begs for repeated listens.
With Neon Golden, The Notwist have done something that's not exactly an easy task; they've created an album that's mixes electronic and organic music in a way that makes each better. Yes, it's electronic pop music, but it doesn't pander, and instead challenges the listener with intricate construction and thoughtful arrangements. Basically, it's music that you can sing along with, without the guilty feelings afterwards that are associated with most music of the same nature. One of the better albums I've heard yet this year, hopefully it will get a distribution in the United States at some point soon and the group can get more of the acclaim that's escaped them for the past decade.