Einsturzende Neubauten | The Jewels (Potomak)

cd_en.jpgThe disc offers much more than what you might expect from what is essentially unreleased B-sides.






Prolific shepherds of the industrial avant-garde, Einsturzende Neubauten add another gem to their ever-growing list of poignant contributions to the genre. The appropriately titled The Jewels is a catalogue of material the group recorded during their fan-supported "Phase III" project (where, through fan contributions, the band was able to record their latest full-length Alles Wieder Offen). The 15 tracks which comprise The Jewels were originally released once a month as downloadable gifts to "Phase III" supporters back in 2006-2007, but are now available in hard-copy in a re-release from Potomak.

The tracks offer much more than what you might expect from what is essentially unreleased B-sides. Most of the songs are just as strong as any selection from previous EN records, although the disc is certainly not as cohesive. Contrasted with the relatively conventional compositions of Alles Wieder Offen (released last fall), each track on The Jewels has its own experimental prerogative. The songs float from the funky syncopations of the disc’s opener, "Ich Komme Davon," to the strangely humorous lyrics of "I Kissed Glenn Gould."

Although each song seems to dwell in its own separate universe, they were all created using the same template. Using the "DAVE" system, akin to Brian Eno’s "Oblique Strategies," the band made cards containing different states of mind, musical concepts or social roles which each member drew randomly and used as a starting part for the recording process. The cards were written while listening to band’s backlog, and serves as proof of the musical veterans’ appetite for new ways to attack the music writing process. Their influence is apparent in many respects, as typical "Neubauten" instruments are often used in unconventional ways (even for EN).

In "Ansonsten Dostojevski," percussionist N.U. Unruh’s cards read, "fruit, gently, muted, major." You may wonder, How can someone play percussion like fruit? You got me, but Unruh’s attempt is quit interesting. Sparse ceramic clanks compliment a subtle electronic throb which flows throughout the piece, cresting with a strangely dainty marimba solo.

In other songs, such as "Epharisto," EN explores new timbres altogether. The bulk of the song features a smart groove, comprised of minimal percussion and wind chimes, which pause for a moment to reveal what I can best describe as a muted whale call. Their instrumentation remains as varied as ever, as the group continues to find new ways to reappropriate objects in a musical context. Singer Blixa Bargeld writes in the liner notes, "I still believe that if objects are properly instrumentalized, they can reveal hidden truths."

As if one interdependent system wasn’t enough, EN added another thick conceptual undercoat the recording process. The material was based on one of singer Bargeld’s recurring dreams. I like to keep that in mind when listening to songs such as "Am I Only Jesus" and the aforementioned "I Kissed Glenn Gould." Although the specifics of The Jewels complex genesis aren’t glaring when listening to the tracks, the desire to do something different is. By working within their own set of rules, EN have managed to find yet another way to push themselves further beyond their comfort zone…if one ever existed.

The Jewels also comes with a 40-minute QuickTime video which documents the band in their studio. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can glean from this teasing footage, as it’s filmed entirely in German, and lacks any subtitles or overdub options. It’s especially puzzling considering the band’s substantial worldwide following and penchant for multilingual vocals. In many ways, the group embraces their international audience on The Jewels, as Bargeld sings in five different languages, including German, Chinese, Hungarian, Greek and English.

The Jewels is a must-have for EN die-hards, and will certainly be interesting to listeners with an open mind. The recording marks one of most interesting and influential bands of our time at the height of their intellectual, conceptual and musical games. A+ | Glen Elkins

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