Einstürzende Neubauten's first proper album since 2000's Silence Is Sexy
presents radical changes for this venerable, pioneering sextet. While their sound has evolved markedly, process is probably the most salient and significant shift of all. Perpetuum Mobile
was propelled by a singular, fiercely independent goal: to abandon the music industry and release the album without the help of a label. To achieve that, the band set up www.neubauten.org
and an IPO style structure of ownership for their fanbase. In exchange for financing (a flat rate of 35 Euros), fans received access to exclusive, unreleased music as well as a bird's eye view of the band's inner workings via live webcasts of studio sessions. Those fans were actually able to witness songs being born, and could comment on the works in progress, suggest improvements or give encouragement. Neubauten's members responded to the feedback, connecting with the unseen onlookers and sometimes bending to the constructive criticism. That's a huge act of compromise for any artist, and for Einstürzende Neubauten, it was previously unthinkable.
In the end, the stunt failed to raise enough cash; Perpetuum Mobile still had to be released on an outside label. Nonetheless, it's a remarkable album, and the results, which include leader/singer Blixa Bargeld's most intimate and vulnerable moments to date, give new perspective on these stoic protagonists.
One thing hasn't changed: Neubauten, ever famous for their work foreshadowing the development of the industrial music scene, continue to repurpose utilitarian objects and machinery for musical ends -- and the objects are chosen not only for their sonic properties, but often for their origins and meaning. The group also employed air compressors connected to sections of PVC pipe; the invented forced-air instruments not only create eerie low-flying notes, but serve as a metaphor for flux. Winds equal change, movement, and evolution; these themes permeate every track. Whether it's in Blixa's lyrics (sung in German, but translated to English in the insert) or the novel sounds and structure, Perpetuum Mobile ("perpetual motion machine") reinforces the inevitability of change, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the day when Einstürzende Neubauten trusted strangers enough to let them join the recording process.
"Ich Gehe Jetzt" (or, "I'm Leaving Now") opens the disc. The song, on the quiet end of the EN spectrum, features a plodding oompah-style cadence and extended bass tones (yep, those air compressors at work), as well as Blixa's Teutonic melodies. It's a wistful and mechanical tune, if that's a viable combination, and it serves as a gentle segue into the title track. "Perpetuum Mobile", centered around the howl of a droning bass note, is a Krautrock masterpiece that harkens back to Can's quality hypnotic jams. Shifting and snaking through groovy fits of metallic percussion, buzzing harmonics and Bargeld's sing-song narrative, it stands out as the album's centerpiece, and sets the thematic tone for all that follows. Next comes the dirgelike "Ein Leichtes Leises Sauseln", a swell of emotion surrounded by organ accompaniment and bitter temperament. If EN has ever aimed at writing ballads, this is as close as they've come.
While the group has located a new sleeve upon which to wear their collective heart, you don't need to remind yourself that Neubauten are still in the game of exploring sound; you can rely upon them to create tantalizing sonic avenues beaten and kneaded by human hand. "Ein Seltnener Vogel", a moment of tense, spartan beginnings, culminates in a cacophony of tribal percussion, chanting and squealing notes spiraling endlessly from a high perch. "Boreas" creates murky, soundtrackish atmospheres for Blixa's words to settle upon, and "Ozean Und Brandung" goes the extra mile, conjuring up storms and seas of dark ambience -- again using "wind" as instrument and metaphor.
Perpetuum Mobile's final third ranks among Neubauten's most accessible work. There's plenty to follow in tracks like "Youme And Meyou" (with its pretty balance of classical structures and perfunctory bounce) and "Der Weg Ins Freie" (the latter propelled by sparse, art-disco rhythms), though these tunes' ear-friendliness doesn't quite reach a pop level. They could, though, if the vision was there -- and who knows what's coming next from this latest phase of Neubauten, a band previously distrustful of outsiders, but at peace with their latest processes.
The group is launching Phase II of Neubauten.org, so go ahead and kick in your money; be a part of the next album, and help to free Einstürzende Neubauten from the music industry altogether. If the next phase is as outstanding as Perpetuum Mobile, it'll easily be worth the 35 Euros.