Degrees of Amnesia
Reviewed by Charlie Bertsch
Saturday, August 14 1999, 6:24 PM
There was a time during the resurrection of guitar rock in the early 1990s when any "alternative" music made on a computer was bound to seem like a breath of fresh air. Surely this explains the impact of Nine Inch Nails first album Pretty Hate Machine. But now the tables have turned and guitar rock sounds as out of step with the present day as it did during the first wave of "electronica" in the early 1980s. The result is a situation in which it's relatively easy for a decent guitar band to attract the attention of discerning music fans -- see Sleater-Kinney -- but hard as shit for computer-based acts with something new to communicate to stand out from the crowd.
This is why I fear Degrees of Amnesia will slip through the cracks, at least in the English-speaking world. But that would be highly unfortunate, because it's a really good record. I suspect that most people who get paid to classify music would classify Langheinrich's work as "ambient." Although this wouldn't exactly be a misclassification, it could lead people to miss the one quality which sets Degrees of Amnesia apart. It's hard to give most ambient music your full attention. It blends into your surroundings like a not-unpleasant smell. It's there, but there's not much there there, if you know what I mean.
Now, I can imagine having Degrees of Amnesia in the background while I do something else -- looking at large-scale art installations in a high-ceilinged museum is a likely candidate -- but the record also works in the foreground, rewarding the listener's concentration with something more than ambiance. It has an immediacy that's scary precisely because it's so subtle, like a shadow that suddenly looms out of the diffuse gray of a streetlit drizzle to make your heart beat faster. And that's something you're average New Age record could never hope to achieve.
Degrees of Amnesia is an Asphodel Records release