If your impression of German electronic music is a sound as gloomy as the country’s sun lounger policy, this third album from Dusseldorf producer Torsten TG Mauss may be the record to convert you. Taking the abstract synthpop of previous LPs Mechanical Eye and Gravity Will Keep Us All Together and adding post-rock, indie rock, jazz and folk, third album Dear Stranger is an intriguing record, one which lacks the outright cohesiveness of fellow countrymen The Notwist but is still tuneful and spiky in equal measure.
Styled to sound intelligent but sleazy, Stranger sees Mauss acting as a manic sound engineer with a collection of defunct instruments. Particularly fond of prog rock synths, he offsets his sketches with soft gloomy vocals, the kind German electronica relies on so well. ‘Ghosts’ features mopey strings, a nodding beat and groans of “I’m begging for the ghost/Trying to warn me I’m alone”, as if Mauss feels so under-appreciated he’s given up on the living and is now forging friendships with the dead. ‘Tuesday’ is built around a two-chord keyboard demo and lyrics about dearly departed drinking buddies, while ‘Don’t Argue’ opens with spooky clarinets before delving into IDM jazz (less terrible than it sounds - it involves Mauss humming to a looped guitar riff and click track).
As quirky as it may be Dear Stranger aims to be more than just electronic tailpieces, and Mauss does more than repeatedly try to out-weird Laurie Spiegel. Some of the stuff here is his most commercial yet, with the fuzzy, upbeat electropop of ‘Sun Kind’ playing like Tarwater with softer edges, and ‘Welcome’ using clattering Cozy Powell-like drums and guitar riffs to swaggering effect. Mauss is clearly trying to appeal to more than just his German trainspotter audience, asking casual listeners “Dear stranger/Why do you disappear/Every time you get so near” on the title track. To anyone who’s ever wondered how Roxy Music might sound if you kidnapped Bryan Ferry and let them jam, these are the tracks that will sway you.
Despite an obtuse, arty exterior which will provoke dismissal from some (only a Casio completist could love the digital yodeling of ‘OMG’), Dear Stranger is a success if Mauss’ objective was to write stuff with wider appeal. ‘I’m a Child’ contains his most beautiful guitar melody to date, winding around you like a scarf after the iciness of the previous tracks, and ‘Circle Lane’ is a straight-up acoustic serenade: no tricks or squeaking, just one guitar and Mauss’ sleepy voice confessing how his girl makes him feel (”Sharp, yellow and struck by lightning”). Though still a long way from conventional electronic pop, the record shows Mauss maturing as a producer, and gets a lot less posturing with every spin.
7George Bass's Score