To Rococo Rot and Tarwater


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Veiculo, 7/10
The Amateur View , 6.5/10
Tarwater: 11/6 12/10 , 7.5/10
Rabbit Moon Revisited , 6/10
Tarwater: Silur , 6.5/10
Tarwater: Animals Suns And Atoms , 6/10
Music Is A Hungry Ghost , 6/10
Koelner Brett , 4/10
Tarwater: Dwellers On The Threshold, 5/10
Hotel Morgen (2004), 5/10
Tarwater: The Needle Was Traveling (2005), 5/10
Tarwater: Spider Smile (2007), 4/10
Speculation (2010) , 5/10
Tarwater: Inside the Ships (2011) , 5/10
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(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

The German trio To Rococo Rot are the missing link between a lot of things: progressive-rock, Velvet Underground, minimalism, Can, post-rock, Tibetan mantra, dub.

Already the authors of the cassette To Rococo Rot (A Contresens, 1995 - Kitty Yo, 1996), Robert and Ronald Lippock's Berlin-based To Rococo Rot, assisted by bassist Stefan Schreider of Kreidler, offered on Veiculo (Emperor Jones, 1997) a kind of 1970s cosmic music updated to modern instances of trip-hop and post-ambient. Not galactic jibes, but subdued acoustic quests; not psychoharmonic treatises, but timid impressionistic watercolors. If the school is that of Kraftwerk, Cluster, Neu and Can, the results rarely recall the masters (perhaps the more robotic Kraftwerk in He Loves Me and Mit Dir In Der Gegend, or the Brian Eno of short rhythm-melodic vignettes). In general, what triumphs above all is the quality of sound, the crystalline timbre of electronics, the carefully vivisected rhythms (the light synth-pop rhythms of Modern Homes), the African percussion of Geheimnis Eines Mantels and Lips, the frantic dub lines of Extra, the android dub of Lift). It's music of evanescence, a stone's throw away from ECM's aesthetic jazz.

The EP Paris 25 (Emperor Jones, 1998) contains 30 minutes of remixed from the album.

With their second (or third) album, The Amateur View (Mute, 1999), To Rococo Rot went beyond mere technique. Where the previous work had focused on the method, on "what we are", this album develops a theory of music, and delivers the "what we play". Emotions peek out of the robotic landscape and organic shapes appear in the geometry of their warped spacetime. Tracks like Telema, Cars, Die Dinge Des Lebens, She Loves Animals are grounded in lovely touches, not in the (far more complex) sonic tricks. This is their "chillout" album: a gentle, subliminal blend of hypnosis and vitality.

Tarwater is a parallel project launched by Ronald Lippock and Bernd Jestram (the two have known each other since 1981). 11/6 12/10 (Kitty-Yo, 1996) is a spectacular introduction to their synthesis of Portishead and Nick Cave. The robotic rhythms and alien noises are infused with romantic melodrama. Samples, loops and computers coexist with and enhance live instruments. The noir tale of Tar is a most original innovation to the form of the ballad. Conquer Rome Itself turns it into an even more lugubrious form, like zombies reading Brecht. Euroslut weds the threnody of the Doors' Crystal Ship and the decadent/anthemic tone of Roxy Music. Kleenex is a robotic blues with a de-humanized refrain a` la Residents, ghostly noises and renaissance-style viola.
New Brood employs rhythmic tricks, grotesque noises and alien back-up vocals to revisit the swinging ballad of the 1950s. Second Arthyr also sounds like a "parody" of easy-listening music. Han Er Der Inne sets a female recitation over sprightly (and a little cheesy) avant-jazz improvisation.
Elbow On The Quilt boasts perhaps the most adventurous arrangement, mixing African, dub and orchestral elements with the deepest voice this side of Cave. The closing Inversnaid is the ultimate hypnotic, de-volute ballad, a plain voice telling a senseless story over a looping gamelan-like pattern.
While the insistent use of recitation may be a matter of acquired taste, Tarwater's first album was a decisive step in the direction of reforming the song format according to a post-rock aesthetics.
Rabbit Moon Remixed (Kitty-Yo, 1998) contains remixes of their songs by other artists.

Rabbit Moon Revisited (Capstack, 1997) further refined their mixture of dub, jazz and funk, with an emphasis on danceability.

Tarwater experimented with more live instruments (especially a flute) and recited texts on Silur (Kitty-Yo, 1998 - Mute, 1999). This album exposed their cultural (if not musical) roots: the recitals bear more similarities to Brecht-Weill's theater than to Can's progressive-rock. At the same time, it offered a revision of American popular music through the lenses of German expressionism: Visit, a psychodrama at plantation-blues pace, is perused by orchestral flourishes that add a sense of estrangement; the mournful The Watersample floats on a bed of random notes that increases the sense of dejection. The problem is that songs are not Tarwater's forte, and soon the album begins to churn out trivial synth-pop for the lounge such as No More Extra Time and 20 Miles Up.
Luckily, each story is complemented by an instrumental piece that seems to work as a metaphysical commentary. In these chamber pieces Tarwater achieves a unique fusion of futurism and expressionism, for example by coupling industrial syncopation, synth bubbles and eerie strings in To Moauf, or by orchestrating sparse noise around the flute in To Describe You. Repetition is used to maximum effect in Seafrance Cezanne, an intricate patchwork of geometric figures, and in The Pomps Of The Subsoil, a post-modern send-up of Sixties kitsch. The closing V-AT is an anthemic piece of sort that repeats a fractured melodic theme over hip-hop beats.
Overall, this is still a transitional album.

On Animals Suns And Atoms (Kitty-Yo, 2000), Lippock croons the shamanic Seven Ways to Fake A Perfect Skin and the druidic The Trees over Jestram's bold electronic soundscapes that often sound like a mellow, psychedelic version of 1980s' synth-pop, filtered through Laurie Anderson's postmodern deconstructions, vivisected hip-hop rhythms, and devoluted funk/soul orchestras. All Of The Ants Left Paris increases the similarity of these cubistic ditties with Brian Eno's catchy pre-ambient vignettes.
The songs would be trivial lounge ballads without Jetstram's experiments. Early Risers's robotic duo of distorted voices is set against a dub-drenched polyrhythm. Layered in the lengthy psychodrama Noon are loops of piano phrases, drums reverbs and mellow strings, while the dramatic core is a male rap against female vocalizing.
Jestram steals the show with his instrumentals: the cinematic noir jazz of Dauphin Sun, the exotic, intricate carillon of Song of the Moth, the martial cosmic fantasy Babyuniverse.

To Rococo Rot's Music Is A Hungry Ghost (Mute, 2001) is a collaboration with disc-jockey Craig "I-Sound" Willingham, but the real killer is the violin of Alexander Balanescu, that turns From Dream To Daylight and Along the Route into poetic visions. The post-nuclear disco music of The Trance Of Travel and the industrial music of Your Secrets A Few Words showcase the German duo's class. For A Moment is the prototype for a new kind of rock song, that is not rock and it is not sung.

Koelner Brett (Staubgold, 2001) documents a live performance.

Tarwater's Dwellers On The Threshold (Mute, 2002) sounds only half-finished, or sounds like two half-finished albums collaged together. Maybe it is not a coincidence that the pieces are half instrumental and half sung. Lippok and Jestram seem to prefer the songs (1985 and especially Metal Flakes), whereas the instrumentals are naive and occasionally trivial. To Rococo Rot

To Rococo's Hotel Morgen (Domino, 2004) is not innovative and is not subtle. It is merely a repetition of their favorite techniques, mostly for the sake of their own egos. Dahlem is a diligent reading of their aesthetics. It could as well be a left-over from Music Is A Hungry Ghost.

Tarwater's The Needle Was Traveling (Morr Music, 2005) excels at both instrumental passages (Across the Dial, Entry) and song constructions (TV Blood, In a Single Place). It only fails to muster the energy to breathe life into these pieces. They sound like dead leaves falling from a very tall tree, hardly making any noise in a largely silent universe. The effect is entrancing for a few minutes, but eventually becomes mere background.

Taken From Vynil (Staugbold, 2007) compiles 12 rare vinyl-only To Rococo Rot recordings.

Tarwater's Spider Smile (Morr Music, 2007) is as anemic and absent-minded as The Needle Was Traveling, sounding like another living-room exercise by consummate musicians who run the tape recorder the way other middle-aged people uncorck a bottle of wine.

To Rococo Rot's mini-album ABC123 (Domino, 2007) was an experiment in using digital devices instead of their usual analog electronics. Their first album in many years, Speculation (Domino, 2010) presented To Rococo Rot grappling with the world of dubstep, a world that they had predated in spirit if not in technical detail.

Meanwhile, Tarwater Inside the Ships (2011) mainly made news for the two odd covers.

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