BEYOND BERLIN: Totem (2019)
Updated: Aug 17, 2019
“Ron is right; Totem is intoxicating, provoking and utterly brilliant for Berlin School fans and of those who like convoluted structures”
1 Marrakech 12:01 2 Far Beyond 12:31 3 Adante 10:26 4 Enkore 14:14
5 Freak Mout 11:28
Groove | GR-265 (CD/DDL 60:41)
(Sequencer-based Berlin School style)
An industrial groan goes from one ear to another! We don't have time to suspect a phase of abyssal ambiences that already the sequencer hiccups of a spasmodic line with crystalline keys which jump now in a moan that has never left the backdrop of Marrakech. The sequencer spits another line of sequence whose movement goes up/down resonates with its imprecise heaviness. Synth pads extend their presences in the form of solos that are difficult to identify in this mass of sounds and sequenced beats. The sequences rain from all directions with their tonal differences and their axes of independent rhythms that touch each other, if not intersect, in a crossroads of sequences and sequenced rhythms which parade beneath the caresses of synth with a very Tangerine Dream tones of the Encore years. The rhythm is captivating, even if not too catchy, because of the sequences and their tonal reflections which are the catalyst of a constantly changing movement. The rhythm is in the style Berlin School with a little less dominant passage that is used to recharge the sequencer which explodes of ingenuity by trafficking a range of percussion and percussive elements that leaves us speechless. In this regard, what happens after the seventh minute is pure genius. The cadence fractures into composite pieces where echo effects, the silvery shadows and highlights as well as other keys coming in reinforcement prolong a rhythmic fauna which is tinkling with a pleasurable effect in the eardrums. This creative ballet continues even until the last second of Marrakech. That starts TOTEM on the right foot, and not just a little! My friend Ron Boots was very excited about this new Beyond Berlin album. He described it as being intoxicating, provoking and utterly brilliant. And he was not just promoting this album available at Groove, he was just aiming right. The sequencers here are simply breathtaking. There is no drum computers on TOTEM. But there are 3 pairs of hands, those of Rene de Bakker, Martin Peters and Oscar van den Wijngaard, who draws treasures of rhythmic creativity throughout the 61 minutes of an album that will surprise you to each of its titles.
Two sequencer lines trace the rhythm of Far Beyond. A third one adds a melodic vision which is taken up by a synth and its honeyed breezes. Other lines of sequences invite themselves in this lunar choreography where the rhythm beats gently, as in a lunar ballad. The synths blow evasive harmonies that stick rather well to the reality of the title being quite distant, whereas fog pads lie down an aura of mysticism. This minimalist movement completes its palette of magnetizing tones with organic sequences that cackle in the genre of Robert Schroeder and others whose glitter reflections come and go in the strategic locations of Far Beyond. We remain in the lunar movement with the succulent Adante and its sonic dragonflies which flutter with their bright wings. What we have here is a beautiful morphic ballad which get weaves only with the innumerable capabilities of sequencers and synthesizers. It's already in my iPod Touch, section night music, next to Far Beyond which is just a little less romantic. Composed and recorded during the rehearsal of Beyond Berlin for the E-Live 2017 festival, Enkore is another little gem of rhythm regarding the sequencing patterns that has probably paved the way for TOTEM, considering the presence of Oscar van den Wijngaard in the band since. We can't strictly speak of rhythm here. It's an announced ritornello by a sequencer' movement on which get grafted a multitude of sequences, percussive and psychedelic effects in a stationary din. The synths are also very active by injecting soothing layers, especially at the beginning, as well as different tonal effects that are in close symbiosis with the different elements that are supported in a sonic mass that sways between the experimental side for sequencers and psybient. Freak Mout concludes this TOTEM on another note. The sequencer is always very attractive with chords jumping weakly on a frozen pond, leading another line which dances just as much gracefully. Here, the synths are more exploited with harmonies whistled in banks of chthonic mists. This is the true nature of the Berlin School with a convulsive framework and dark atmospheres where the harmonies of a secret flute are roaming. Well, I was talking about the true nature of the Berlin School! But things change from the 6th minute... The sequencer is dribbling its keys fluttering like these objects wandering on a disordered conveyor. We immediately think of Chris Franke, and with good reason! The sequencers weave a superb rhythmic bed where shimmering arpeggios cling to a solid bass line. Freak Mout becomes a good electronic rock with chords that tinkle like bottoms of empty bottles under the warm caresses of a synth that has lost its chthonic layers when the rhythm has stormed our ears. They will return with the songs and nasal solos of a synth that struggles to follow the creative rhythmic progression of Freak Mout.
I fully agree with Ron; TOTEM is stunning, intoxicating and quite awesome. A must for Berlin School fans, that's for sure! But this is also a must for fans of sequencers and of convoluted structures that are the ingenuity and daring of those who handle those sequencers. As much effective with the ears in open air than well wrapped in headphones, this TOTEM from Beyond Berlin will probably be one of the best albums of its kind in 2019!
Sylvain Lupari (May 11th, 2019) ****½*
Available at Groove NL