Tuesday, 3 November 2020

AUA - I Don't Want It Darker (2020)

Country: Germany
Style: New Wave/Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 4 Sep 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

Here's a new debut album that got under my skin that's a little hard to describe, from a Leipzig duo known as AUA, which is presumably an acronym for something I'm blissfully unaware.

I'm listing them as psychedelic rock, which is true as anything else, especially given that listening to this on repeat might just induce a trance state, but it's a little misleading. Their core sound is British new wave, located somewhere in the transition between the end of Joy Division and the beginning of New Order. The disinterested vocals remind a little of Ian Curtis, though they're less of a focal point, more like the Cocteau Twins at their most textured, and the drums on the title track are right out of Joy Division too, but the keyboards are too perky, pushing them into the New Order era.

And the keyboards are really important here, taking the place of the guitars in a rock band, so much so that there are easy comparisons to krautrock and its electronic descendants. Instrumental pieces like Starstruck clearly have Tangerine Dream somewhere in their ancestry but at a distance because they're shorter and poppier and interested in hooks rather than themes. I'm not immersed enough in the history of German electronica to viably suggest comparisons but it's all warmer and more organic than Kraftwerk yet more grounded in the old school than any more modern genre of dance music that I've heard.

The result is a fascinating one for me. My brain tells me that the relentlessly perky beat of Coke Diet shouldn't be applicable to either ethereal vocals or guitar fuzz, but somehow it all works. Some of the synthwork reminded me of Vangelis and that couldn't help remind me in turn that, while I enjoy his solo work immensely, adding Jon Anderson to the mix created something new. Albedo 0.39 and The Friends of Mr. Cairo are utterly different albums, even if they're grounded in the same keyboardist. This feels like that, as if this was a parallel universe collaboration between Vangelis and, say, Damon Albarn of Blur, that took from both their styles but created something else entirely.

It helps that AUA constantly bring in new sounds as they deem fit. No Treatment trawls in surf guitar and that puts us into the sort of bizarre indie territory that I remember from the Dark Night of the Soul album by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse. The whole album would be a good companion piece but I'm especially remembering the title track with echoey backing and a distorted vocal from David Lynch.

Lynch comes to mind in another sense, because this could easily be a soundtrack, even the tracks with vocals. The question becomes what sort of movie would feature such a soundtrack. It would have to be European and independent, dark themed and a little off the wall. But, if Lynch was ever exiled to the continent the way Orson Welles was and he put together a cult retro science fiction tale set in West Berlin, this album would be knocking on his door demanding to be included.

As you might imagine from my words thus far, there's a lot to absorb here. Taken as a whole, it's not like anything I've heard before and I live to say things like that. However, there are so many moments that spark memories of other artists and bands. That's a Kings of the Wild Frontier-era Adam and the Ants beat, but that pulse is quintessential Pink Floyd. Often they come together, like on the closer, Umami Karoshi, which combines an old school Bauhaus beat, a Repo Man Iggy Pop bass line and a Nothingface-era Voivod vocal, along with a frickin' theremin for good measure. How's that for a mix?

The two gentlemen behind AUA, whatever it stands for, are Henrik Eichmann and Fabian Bremer and I can't help but wonder what else they've done. It wouldn't surprise me if they each knock out a dozen albums a year in wildly different styles. Let's go see!

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