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To Rococo Rot - Speculation



Stefan Schneider and the Lippok brothers have been treading the uncertain ground of live organic sound and electronics for a while now. “Speculation” is their 8th studio album. Like their German forefathers, the band are keen to stand silent behind an ever-changing sound world of abstractions and rhythms.

“Speculation” was recorded at Faust’s studio in a remote part of rural Germany, and like albums such as Cluster’s wonderful “Sowiesoso”, retains an aura of genteelness that is heartwarming.  It does however threaten to underwhelm at times. The presence of Faust’s Jochen Irmler on the last track adds a certain historical weightiness that anchors the album with a foot in the past. Beyond that though, it’s hard to make out anything tangible at the start that grabs one’s attention.

The album title is actually quite apt, as the band state their case for the idea of seeing what happens when one throws textures and soundscapes together.  The overriding idea initially seems to be about slowly building basslines and rhythms, with the odd bit of live sound thrown in, like with opener “Away”. Yet there’s no real sense of tension that’s evoked by this approach. “Seele” is much better though, as the sound of a treated piano cuts right through matters from the start and is accompanied by Schneider’s purposeful bassline.

Organic Techno best describes the busy overtures of “Horses”, but for me the crowded nature of the composition grated. Whilst “Forwardness” has some joyful moments of marimba-laced melody, again it lacked a certain finesse. Schneider’s bass, both dynamic and warm, dominates proceedings throughout , yet at times fails to really grasp the listener’s attention. If you’re going to lead with a bass guitar, you must really do something quite special with it. This is professional sounding, but lacking in any real identity. “Working against Time” is a great example as the guitar and attending sound splashes seem to be decorating an interplay of rhythm and bass that never really finds its way out of a self-imposed maze.

It’s a shame because the latter half of the album has the trio eschewing the need for typical shimmering post-rock sonic doodles for some interesting and bountiful ideas. “Place It” oscillates with a peculiar oriental charm and although soaked in the 70’s, “Ship” is beautifully psychedelic. The album’s tracks are never longer than 5 minutes or so except for closer “Fridays” which, with Irmler in attendance on home-made organ grows and mutates with a typically ominous sheen of murky sound. It’s not particularly brilliant, but provides a pleasing end to an album that took a while to get going in the first place.

“Speculation” has a lot of ideas, as you would expect of a band that are pleasingly forward-looking in their approach. However, it was frustrating that the most uninteresting ones were put at the start. The presence of Irmler and the location perhaps permeated the influence of Krautrock too much on proceedings.  Once they’d shed that most cumbersome of millstones, the quality and more importantly, their identity began to shine. Less looking back next time please.

Toby Frith

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