The Notwist Forge Musical Links from Broken Global Barriers on 'Vertigo Days'
Published Jan 27, 2021After three decades of bandhood and counting, German outfit the Notwist, formed by brothers Micha and Markus Acher, have long illustrated the limitations of genre tags. Initially rising to greater attention in the late '90s and early '00s, their sound was often lumped into the "folktronica" files along with artists like Four Tet and the Books. Their instrumentation was more idiosyncratic and jazz-adjacent, layering woodwinds and live drumming into the mix, mostly in service of songs rather than soundscapes.
After a couple of very strong albums, Shrink in 1998 and near-masterpiece Neon Golden in 2002, the band's later releases felt more like a machine left to idle. Of greater note were their collaborations with members of Themselves and Subtle from the Anticon label; two cosmos-devouring and death-obsessed albums under the 13 & God moniker were the result, mashing hip-hop into the already ingredient-heavy batter.
The lingering echoes from collaborative impulses ping off brand new shapes offered on this first proper Notwist album in six years. Vertigo Days has a familiar but notably updated and refined palette of sounds. Micha charts a course in sound that touches on everything from light chamber baroque to hints of Tropicália in fresh new combinations. Markus, as always, finds the pockets to insert gentle, hook-laden guitar melodies and fragile-voiced lyrics. Secretly, the hero of the album is drummer Andi Harberl, "new" member since 2007, who ticks off rhythms varying from the krautrock propulsion of "Ship," featuring vocals from Tenniscoats' Saya, to Joy Division-esque poly-punk patterns on "Into the Ice Age," which has some extra woodwind support from Angel Bat Dawid.
Ben Lamar Gay — like Dawid, part of the currently super-hot International Anthem Recording Co. jazz collective — provides a guest vocal on "Oh Sweet Fire" that is a little tin among the gold and silver of things. Fitting with fewer seams is fellow genre polymath Juana Molina, who brings her voice and electronics to bear on the Stereolab-via-Brazil shakedown of "Al Sur." Capping off the album is the drunkenly lovely "Into Love Again" which expands upon the earlier "Into Love / Stars" theme with a swell of brass from Japanese band Zayaendo.
The ambitions, expansions, and collaborations on Vertigo Days mostly pay off, sacrificing a little thematic cohesion for the reward of greater variety in sound. It does the good work of forging musical links out of broken global barriers. (Morr)