Smoke and Fire
Smoke and Fire
Tuesday, July 13 2004, 6:29 PM
There is just something about the Teutonic aesthetic that feels so right, and almost soothing, right now. The inherent belief in order (when it doesn't slip into its alter-ego, control), the detached, aloof persona that thinly conceals a blood-red heart. Maybe these are projections. But listening to Neulander makes them seem like inherent truths. Neulander is made up of New Yorkers working in the Berlin idiom, and on a Berlin label, Disko B: Korinna Knoll (actually Austrian) sings and Adam Peter 'does' instruments & electronics. Knoll is a musical first-timer, Peter played keyboards with Echo and The Bunnymen, and produced Siouxsie, Triffids and Lloyd Cole back in the day.
On the cover of Smoke + Fire , Neulander stand side-by-side, looking straight at the camera, dressed like girl-boy twins, arms straight down. Their faces form identical, peculiar expressions that connote expressionlessness, but actually convey volumes. You can't fool us, Neulander. We know that you care.
Smoke + Fire is pretty, lush, ESL pop-tronica. Air and Stereo Total come to mind, though Neulander doesn't really sound like either, except for their atmospheric tendencies and a certain Euro-quirkiness. Knoll's voice is sweet and clear, and her sometimes choppy phrasing is good in the same way Nico's was good agine a less dark, less strange Nico who can really sing. The mix of keyboards and manufactured beats with warmer acoustic instrumentation (cello, bass, acoustic guitar, piano) sounds fresh. But the skeleton of 80s new wave and new-romanticism is visible under the more contemporary skin. The effect is a little My Bloody Valentine in its pace, a little Soft Cell in its feel - this album is immensely romantic, and playful, too.
Now sometimes when you're put off by the lyrics on the first track, like I was with the single 'Sex, God + Money, it's hard to keep listening. But this one is worth pushing through. Track one is the perfect example of a band getting too 'macro' with their lyrical content - the themes are so big and vague that they are rendered meaningless. But when Neulander gets personal, like on 'Flying,' a wistful but not overwrought account of traveling and loneliness within a life where 'one thing never really led to another,' it doesn't sound like much written on the page, but what does? The first line of 'Pale Blue Eyes' is 'Sometimes I feel so happy/Sometimes I feel so sad.' But what hooks you is that the emotions behind the words shine through, with no attempt by the band to either fluff them up or subtle-fy them with metaphors and other masks.
It will be interesting to see where Neulander goes. This might be it for them who knows? If it is, Smoke + Firewill probably not be repackaged as a 'lost classic' later, or garner a rabid underground following. It's not necessarily groundbreaking, but that's not its thing. It is a solid, varied release that sometimes hangs back, sometimes insists, but is always compelling in its honesty.
Smoke and Fire is available from Disko B