Review: ‘Close to the Glass,’ The Notwist

photo: The Notwist albumby Derek Etsler

Beginning with an arpeggiated synthesizer, The Notwist's “Close to the Glass” immediately diverges from the band’s harder sound of the past. Formed in 1989, the German band has explored numerous musical styles in their 25 year career. Beginning with hard rock and metal, the band began to flirt with electronica elements in the late '90s. The 2002 album “Neon Golden” softened their sound, incorporating more pop and commercially friendly song structures. Their latest album “Close to the Glass” continues this trend with a stronger presence of electronic elements.

The opening track “Signals” combines percussive electronic sounds that blend seamlessly with The Notwist's pop-rock styling, reminiscent of French electronica duo Air. This segues into the title track that begins with a Radiohead-style melodic drum line that continues as the tonic center of song.

Percussion as melody and electronic sounds as percussion is a common sonic strategy throughout the album. As tension and drums fade into ambience, guitar chords belt out of the decaying remains of the previous track, reminding the listener that they are listening to a rock band. Combining an organic pop sound with flutters and hints of electronica, “Kong” represents how far the band has come from their grunge beginnings.

The album portrays a feeling of fractured continuity, where different styles and songs flow into each other perfectly while remaining individually distinct. The album switches back and forth between down-tempo synth electronica as seen in “Run Run Run” and acoustic pop rock, such as “Casino” and “Steppin In”.

“Close to the Glass” could be summarized with the nine minute “Lineri”. Beginning with a swirling distortion that seems to bounce inside your head, gentle melodies struggle to form from the mess. The melodies grow stronger and more distinct as the distortion slowly fades to clean electronic percussion. This process is then reversed as the melody and structure slowly fall back to grungy, circular distortion. However, the beauty of the track is maintained throughout the fractured sounds, allowing the smooth transitions between varying musical voices. The album comes to a close with beautiful electronic soundscapes that punctuate The Notwist's professional, transitioned sound.