Here I am, on a perfectly warm and non-moist day and I’m sitting inside writing and listening to music. Shouldn’t I be outside? Shouldn’t I want to be outside, slinging dirt or digging holes or pulling weeds or something? It seems like I should be anyways. Truth be told, I spent four hours outside yesterday doing just that. Raking, digging, chopping, pulling up dead bushes and transplanting live ones in their places. By the time I was done I felt I’d been used as a kick bag by Van Damme(the 1987 version of Van Damme, that is.) Today, when I rise from my chair it’s quite a feat. And kneeling and bending my legs causes great discomfort and pain. My hamstrings and glutes feel like I ran a marathon yesterday. It’s amazing what yard work can do to a fella.
So yeah, I’m taking it easy today. Tomorrow after work will be more of that physical labor. I’ve got dirt, landscape timbers, and mulch to lay out, then onto the next big thing. Until then though, I’ll sit here and listen to some music. What am I listening to? Oh, well actually it’s Listen Like Thieves’ Berlin Alex. Who’s that, you say? Well, let me explain.
Back in late 2012 and 2013 I’d discovered the record label Captured Tracks. A Brooklyn-based record label run by Mike Sniper. Sniper and Captured Tracks had a penchant for putting out records by synth/electronic-based artists that very much liked to dabble in darker, new wave and dark wave sounds. I fell hard for The Soft Moon’s Zeros in the fall of 2012. That album opened the Captured Tracks world for me. Wild Nothing, Beach Fossils, Diiv, Craft Spells, Alex Calder, Mac Demarco, and Medicine were a few of the bands I got to know through their releases on Captured Tracks. Another band that I’d found on their roster was Thieves Like Us. I’m not completely sure what drew me to them, but I sampled some of their music and was instantly drawn to their album Berlin Alex.
Now Thieves Like Us’ sound has changed quite a bit since this first album of theirs was released. They now sound more like Euro dance pop(I’m not sure they’re even a band anymore.) Their most recent releases are pretty same-y and boring, but this first release with just Pontus Berghe on drums and keys, Björn Berglund on drums and keys, and Andy Grier on synthesizers is something completely different. Very dark and bubbling with those synth noises bands like Tangerine Dream and Cluster dabbled with, it’s an all instrumental affair that keeps you entranced for it’s 40 minute run time.
I won’t go into great detail in regards to the sound of this record. I’ll say this: if you’re familiar with Tangerine Dream’s Thief soundtrack, Kraftwerk’s Computer World, and countless other krautrock-isms over the last 40 years then this album may sound a little familiar. Not quite as morose or feckless as those that came before it, you get the feeling that the two swedes and the American expat wanted to delve into electronic music’s history and add a bit of sex to it. The deep bass and occasional dance beat give songs like “Free From The Ice”, “Get Me To The Kiss”, and “Dreams Of Malibu” a sensual touch. Like a replicant attempting to seduce the mortal human. I could definitely hear these songs as a score to that long rumored Blade Runner sequel.
Listening to the music that came after this record it’s as if what melancholy that had survived and thrived in the music on Berlin Alex was completely washed away. The robot had developed feelings AND a drug habit so everything was about canned partying and synth pop sweetness. I’m sure it was all about having a hit or whatever you want to call it, but I suppose I prefer the bedroom dark synth music to snorting coke in the club bathroom of albums like Play Music and Again and Again. I don’t blame a band for wanting worldwide success and lots of album sales. I just don’t usually like music that includes either of those things.
There was a recent update to the band’s Facebook page. It was a black and white photo with their name and something written in Japanese. They’re playing a show with Autechre and the Boredoms May 30th at the Taico Club Festival in Nagano Japan. Maybe there’s a new album of krautrock-ish instrumental music on the way? I don’t know. At least they’re still a band. Until I hear differently, I’ll just continue to enjoy this one great album from them. If you enjoy the wavering, hazy sounds of synth music I’d suggest you check this record out. Explore further if you’re feeling a little frisky. That’s completely up to you.
I need to go ice my ankle now. Yard work is tough work. So is getting old.