5 Best Ulrich Schnauss CDs (Minus-1)

I usually use Five Best Albums for Icons of Echoes, but Ulrich Schnauss has only three proper albums, one remix collection and EPs.

So this is The Five Best Ulrich Schnauss CDs (Minus-1). The thing is, each one is nearly perfection. Ulrich Schnauss is a German electronic artist who is influenced by forebears like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream (he ID’d the

Ulrich Schnauss @ Echoes

Dream in a blindfold test from the opening applause on Ricochet). But unlike retro-space artists, he doesn’t sound like he just emerged from their dusty studios after being marooned there for 35 years. Instead, his synthesizers bristle with contemporary electro-rhythms, a bit of New Wave romanticism, a lot of distortion and melodies you want to last forever. Schnauss has perfected a balance between quiet yearning and joyful heroism in his music, with sweeping major chord progressions that are triumphal without being ostentatious, expansive without being pompous. Listeners voted Ulrich Schnauss #19 among 20 Icons of Echoes.

You can hear the Echoes feature on Ulrich Schnauss tomorrow (09/01/2010) including a suite of his music. Or, you can listen to the podcast here:


With his second album Ulrich Schnauss created his defining sound. Released in 2003, A Strangely Isolated Place is an epic tone poem of escape: majestic, soaring and driving. From the pulsing serenity of “Gone Forever” with Judith Beck’s choral vocals and the orchestral synthesizer whooshes and downtempo groove, Schnauss established a world of triumphant melancholy.  A Strangely Isolated Place jumps from the space-surf drums of “On My Own” to the reflective beautify of “Blumenthal.” You can hear influences of 1980s new wave, 1970s space music and 1990s ambient/electronica variations.  A master of  mood, he sets  a mysterious atmosphere with drones and space pings on “Sunday-Paracetamol”  only to explode into a surging groove. It’s an album that can bring you to tears, but can also drive you down a highway at 100 mph.  A Strangely Isolated Place remains not only my favorite Ulrich Schnauss CD, but it’s in my top Ten albums for the first decade of the 21st century.

Far Away Trains Passing By is Ulrich Schnauss’s debut album, released belated in the U.S. All the elements of his music were already present in this 2001 recording.  Schnauss is keyed into contemporary electro rhythms, a bit of New Wave romanticism, and melodies that have that infinite never-ending sound of  Pachelbel’s “Canon.” Like Brian Eno, Schnauss has perfected a balance between quiet yearning and joyful heroism in his music, with sweeping major chord progressions that are triumphal without being ostentatious, heroic without being pompous. Although his music is rhythm centered with crackling snares and electro-glitches, it’s ultimately the melody that draws you in, turned on glistening, bell-like timbres and space-organ sustains. The re-issue of Far Away Trains Passing By comes with a bonus CD that includes 6 tracks pulled from various Schnauss side projects and tracks that didn’t make the original album.

Goodbye wasn’t a a farewell from Ulrich Schnauss, but it is his latest album and marked the last in a trilogy that includes Far Away Trains Passing By and A Strangely Isolated Place.  Both are landmark albums of melodically ecstatic electronica and Goodbye flows from their digital loins. Tracks like “Never Be the Same” and “In Between the Years” share the same surging rhythms, heroic electronic melodies and jangly shoe-gazer guitar emulations heard on the earlier discs. A slight tweak on Goodbye is the shift toward more overt vocal tracks as opposed to the textural, chanting choruses Schnauss has always employed. Rob McVey, the singer from Longview, intones the epic strains of  “Shine,” while “Stars” places singer Judith Beck deep in echoes, singing a delay-drenched, surf-music dervish. In fact, delayed, drenched and dervish sums up Goodbye. Schnauss piles on effects and layers in a psychedelic melee that would leave Ozric Tentacles and Pink Floyd standing transfixed by his stroboscopic strategies. Unlike his previous CDs, Schnauss doesn’t let you get comfortable. Reverb smeared vocals, feedback oscillated synthesizers and raging computer modeled guitars of destruction crush through on tracks like “Medusa.” But there are also moments of sublime beauty and the kind of haunting melodies that have made Schnauss a favorite for chill-out soundtracks of the imagination. Ice crystals glisten on the branches of “Einfeld” and the deliriously euphoric “Goodbye” simply lifts you higher.

This isn’t a proper Ulrich Schnauss CD, in that it’s remixes of other artists songs, but every one of these tracks would fit on any of the previous three Ulrich Schnauss albums. He turns Howling Bells’ “Setting Sun” into a roaring distorted siege surrounded the knwoing vocals of Juanita Stein, while A Sunny Day In Glasgow’s “Ghost in the Graveyard” get’s his surf drums w/ostinato bass treatment. “Halo” by Aus gets a more delicate, spacey treatment. The backwards reverb on Katharina Franck’s “Faithful Friend” is overdone but results in the payoff of a joyous chorus that builds with each repeat. The masterpiece of the album is “Bluebird of Happiness” by Mojave 3. Already a lovely, country-tinged meditation, Schnauss reharmonizes the vocals into a chorale and pushes it with surging rhythms and synth pads into something epic and beautiful. Missing Deadlines isn’t perfect. It’s grossly over-compressed, sucking out the dynamics and subtlety of many tracks. And I wish he’d used his remix of Airial’s guitar driven “Sugar Crystals,” but on the other hand, it was nice to see him include a more obscure track like Tim Story and Hans-Joachim Roedelius’ “Lunz,” which he supercharges out of its ambient serenity.

So those are the Five Best Ulrich Schnauss CDs, Minus One.  I’m sure his next album, which doesn’t seem imminent, will fill out the list.  He’s currently playing as a full time member with the alt-electronica band, Engineers.  Here’s a live sample of some of the music he’s working on.

Every time Ulrich Schnauss plays he remixes himself. Here’s a track from his live Echoes Living Room Concert “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,” which appears on our CD, Vapor Trails.

You can see our complete list here of the 20 Icons of Echoes.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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