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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

ROBERT SCHROEDER: Brainchips (2005)

Updated: May 12, 2022

Lively and melodic, Brainchips offers more interesting than uninteresting stuff

1 Doo Doo 5:43

2 Wafer 3:43

3 Electron 6:16

4 Heaven 5:17

5 Space-Track 6:01

6 Froggy 4:36

7 Serenade 10:27

8 Login 4:39

9 Hotspot Zone 4:17

10 So Check Me 6:23

11 Passing Streams 6:25

12 Shallala 10:08

(CD 74:00) (V.F.)

(EM, EDM, Electronica)

It's thus barks of mechanical dogs that one believes to hear in the undulations of coppered synth layers. The opening of Doo Doo is gliding up until percussions give it a slow and languorous rhythmic life under these synth layers with industrial aromas. Our ears perceive swirls effects in this sound mass dominated by good lunar orchestration arrangements that also fill the majority of the 74 minutes of this comeback album for the Aachen magician. These lunar layers start to move like these clouds accelerating in fast forward. This movement is in symbiosis with the percussions which follow the new rhythm imposed by the palpitations of the bass line and these chords of keyboard chirruping while jumping with their structure of organic lisp. Oh how I missed this universe of Robert Schroeder's sounds! Everything fits together as Doo Doo, even a voice whispers those two words, restructures its momentum for a kind of cosmic Funk with the help of those singing arpeggios as if squeaking in a tasty organic texture. It was precisely in 1994, with the live album Everdreams, that the brilliant German synthesist and student of Klaus Schulze took his leave to take refuge in a deep creative silence. Prolific sound engineer, he worked on the development of musical instruments following the new technologies' evolution and recording techniques. And chords have been dropped since then as there have been many changes of style in the wonderful world of electronic music (EM) between his last studio album, Mindwalk in 1993, and this BRAINCHIPS which comes as a big surprise. Nobody expected it and nobody expected an album of this dimension. Twelve years separate these 2 albums and Schroeder does as such by presenting a big 74 minutes of an EM that sticks to the reality and the techniques of today. Already avant-gardist on the treatment of electronic sounds, let's remember the excellent Brain Voyager, he has made an impressive bank of sound samples where our ears struggle even more to differentiate the sources, filling them even more to the rim. In fact, he continues a musical evolution already started with Pegasus by flirting with rhythms closer to the current flavors of Electronica, while the bass play and the chords' tones breathe real life to some tasty Funk and Cosmic Groove. And if you're looking for old flavors of his early years, you'll have to settle for D.MO Vol.1, as D.MO Vol.2 which will follow SphereWare. And why did Sylvain wait so long before writing about this BRAINCHIPS? A misperception (I had heard the sung version in the early 2000's) and an oversight that has been perpetuated over almost 20 years. But that's okay, since I was able to savor this delicious (yes, yes) album without hurry and with two ears more detached. The 12 structures of this album are based on multiple rhythms and harmonies lines as well as atmospheric textures. It's not uncommon to hear on it different EDM approaches built on 2 and even 3 rhythm structures in the same track, bringing this depth to the rhythms that sometimes destabilizes but seduces just as much. It depends on the genres exploited.

The tonal setting, sound mass and rhythm of Doo Doo is very representative of this album which continues with Wafer and this stimulating percussive effect simulating the teeth of a comb being rubbed on hard cardboard. Wafer goes in our ears with a good rhythm well installed on sober percussions which project an echo to give more depth and rhythmic panache. It becomes a good up tempo with Tangerine Dream like keyboard riffs and vocal effects scattered in a semi dramatic envelope, especially because of the guitar riffs. Electron follows with an opening of tones floating in the mists of fragile harmonies, like a leaf falling from its tree, whistled by a synth whose suspended moans structure a more or less melodic approach. The sound effects stick to the meaning of the title which develops with a first pulsating approach of a bass line and a second one which jumps from one ear to the other, like a gigantic bolo game. Electronic percussions are added to these lines of sequences which roll in parallel, giving a good electronic rock. Heaven flirts with a downtempo that feels like an up-tempo because of the solid percussions playing, whose sharp hits on extremely tense skins weave a delicate echo effect. The keyboard makes harmoniously dance arpeggios whose fragile tinklings seem to barely scratch the surface of the rhythm that flirts with a synthpop tending towards modern up tempo. Robert Schroeder puts a suave guitar solo in the second part of the track. It's cute!

Space-Track is an atmospheric track with a lot of reverb and jerk's effects. I had a little trouble with Froggy which is filled with vocal and other delightfully organic sound effects over a Funky Groove beat. The keyboard melody of Serenade explains its title. This longest BRAINCHIPS' track starts in an ambient-meditative way. The structure evolves with electronic percussions that are in symbiosis with a nervous bass line. That gives a lively rhythm with quieter episodes that serve the cause of a keyboard that likes to elaborate more than one melody line as well as rhythmic chords. The evolution remains very sober compared to the length of the title. I like Login and its Bad Company-like Rock Steady structure and its guitar in theatrical post-rock mode. We tap of our feet and roll our neck! This essence of guitar is also found in the atmospheric opening of So Check Me and its rhythm structure that develops into an up-tempo always embellished by this guitar more dreamy than harmonious. Note here the use of the vocal samplings repeating the title's name. A recurring element on the album that brings it no more depth. Hotspot Zone is at the limit of downtempo with a good pulsating bass, sober percussions and keyboard chords as much harmonic than rhythmic. On a metronomic rhythmic structure, Passing Streams proposes a slightly chaotic cadence. A finely spasmodic structure because of the play of the bass drum. A nice effect of acoustic guitar proposes a melodious bohemian vision in a good texture of voices and of celestial synthesized elements. It's a track that is very close to the first albums of Robert Schroeder. Shallala ends BRAINCHIPS with a long, evolving structure beginning with a sequenced chord line bouncing around in a circular, strobe-like texture. Small percussive steps drum on the rhythmic floor of the track where vocal effects are hidden behind a barrage of synth layers with harmonies as ambivalent as the colors. These elements join with a new sequencer texture, creating a layered rhythm that beats with a seductive lack of cohesion under orchestral synth layers and vocal textures that repeat Shallala. We like it or not!

Did I ended liking this BRAINCHIPS? Nearly 17 years after its release I’m still not sure. I heard a lot of Schroeder albums since 2005. Some with a solid dance music vibe and other more oriented with a vision of progressive EM. This album has both. And even over a distance of 12 years between Mindwalk, it takes up the great themes of creativity of the musician from Aachen who always privileges a creativity on the level of the sound textures and the rhythmic possibilities of the instruments that he develops to the more progressive structures of his beginning of career. Very lively and melodic, this comeback album offers more interesting than uninteresting stuff, reminding us again and again the immensity of Robert Schroeder's visionary talent.

Sylvain Lupari (May 9th, 2022) ***½**

Available at Spheric Music

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