Ulrich Schnauss’ A Long Way to Fall is the Echoes February CD of the Month.
Hear an audio version of this review with music in the Echoes Podcast.
Five years after his stormy, end-of-the-world electro-shoegaze treatise called Goodbye, German downtempo synth scientist Ulrich Schnauss returns with a new CD. Gone are the layers of distorted sound, aggressive grooves and over-driven guitar timbres that marked Goodbye. A Long Way to Fall has a cleaner sound, letting Schnauss’ electronic melodies breathe in clear air instead of an electric haze. But run through the titles and it seems like the memories of a tormented life: “Borrowed Time” “A Forgotten Birthday” “A Long Way To Fall” “I Take Comfort In Your Ignorance” “Like A Ghost In Your Own Life” “A Ritual in Time and Death” “Broken Homes.”
Yet, with a few exceptions, the sound of A Long Way to Fall loops back to Schnauss’ uplifting breakthrough albums, Faraway Trains Passing By and A Strangely Isolated Place;a sound Brian Eno might describe as “brave and resigned” and which I’d call melancholy and heroic. Think Spartacus on the cross. Even with a title that suggests darkness and foreboding, like “The Weight of Darkening Skies,” the song itself sounds like the happier child of “Medusa,” the electro-distortion, 8-bit blowout from Goodbye.
Schnauss is an artist who loves the mystery of sound, creating alien worlds on “Broken Homes,” which mixes 8-bit video game Pong bleeps with thudding electronic drums churning over each other in a slurry of distended groove. The backwards incantations of German priests lends an aura of mystery and a little dread. Schnauss often gently entices you before sending you spinning. “Her and the Sea” opens the album pensively, before launching into a percussive track with churning synthesizer grooves bisected by glitch effects and the kind of euphoric melody that Ulrich Schnauss has perfected.
Ulrich Schnauss is one of the most widely influential electronic artists, but he nods to his own roots on A Long Way to Fall . “A Forgotten Birthday” is a headlong cinematic plunge with a galloping electro-samba groove, pinging space harpsichords and swooping synth pads that updates the 70’s electronic sound. He loves Tangerine Dream so much that in an Echoes blindfold test he identified the Dream’s “Ricochet” just from the opening applause. So in an album that looks back to his early days, it ends with a track that goes even further back with a Berlin School sequencer pattern driving the space journey of “A Ritual in Time and Death.”
Although the themes, like that title, are dark and the music wouldn’t be called happy by most standards, on A Long Way to Fall , Ulrich Schnauss once again orchestrates a deliriously kinetic electronic opus that pushes toward ecstasy.
~John Diliberto ((( echoes )))