The Notwist: Neon Golden (Domino)

Perhaps the only fault I have with this album is that relatively few people will ever hear it.

I have attempted on many occasions to review the Notwist’s Neon Golden. I have nothing but good to say about it, I consider it one of the best albums I’ve ever heard, and each time I listen to it, I come to love it more and more. Yet, sadly, nothing I can write will do complete justice, but here’s my effort.

A brief introduction: Neon Golden was the album that your nerdy indie-music friends couldn’t wait to own, forking over enough money to buy two albums from Matador’s back catalog (or dinner for a week) for a U.K. import. It most likely made your nerdy indie-music friends’ “Top Ten CDs of 2002” list, and now they’ve since moved on, looking for 2003’s contenders. Perhaps you’ve heard it and liked it, but decided to save your money and patiently wait for a domestic release. Your reward: three bonus tracks, and best of all, the music is still good.

But if you haven’t yet heard it, let me try to fill you in on what you’re missing: an album rich in textures, where banjos and acoustic guitars comfortably share space with synthesized loops and rhythms. The first track, “One Step Inside,” opens with pizzicato strings and low woodwinds, building a space in which Markus Acher’s soft, plaintive vocals fit perfectly. Definite standouts include “The Pilot,” an up-tempo track with crisp beats and a glowing chorus, and “Pick Up the Phone,” a tender and sad song that manages to be slow without plodding or carrying on longer than necessary. The title track begins with the ominous pickings of a steel guitar and an eerie, mournful refrain, all of which get slowly washed out by a sea of warm electronics. Producer and band member Martin Console, probably best known for his work on “Heirloom” from Bjork’s Vespertine, expertly fills the spaces between beats and vocals with hums, crackles, and clicks. It would be ridiculously obsessive to catalogue all the sounds and textures in even one of the songs off Neon Golden, but nothing seems extraneous or out of place. Repeat listens promise new discoveries laden with nuances you missed the first 20 times.

Comparisons to latter-day Radiohead are inevitable. Fortunately, the Notwist is far from being an A&R-engineered knockoff. Both bands share a penchant for creating unique and multi-textured songs, using electronic elements to raise rather than negate the emotional quotient. Acher’s voice is also fairly reminiscent of that of Thom Yorke. Like Yorke, Acher mainly sings somewhat cryptic personal poetry, using his voice as another instrumental layer. Whether or not you relate to or fully understand the meaning of the words of “Off The Rails,” there’s no missing the contemplative nature of the song.

Perhaps the only fault I have with this album is that relatively few people will ever hear it. There’s no truly honest reason why a song such as “One With the Freaks” (with its pleasantly catchy chorus of “Have you ever been all messed up?”) doesn’t deserve regular radio play. And sadly, you probably won’t see the video for “Pick Up on the Phone,” a touching drama acted out with bear and bunny puppets, on MTV anytime soon. But if you carefully hunt through the “Miscellaneous N” racks, with any luck, one of the best unheard albums of 2002 can top your list for 2003.

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