Bohren & der Club of Gore make doom jazz – or is it dark jazz?
Bohren & der Club of Gore make doom jazz – or is it dark jazz? Either way, it’s not terribly doomy or dark. Sure, they play at a glacial pace and surround themselves with signifiers of death and despair: skulls, corpses, devils, witches. But if you’re expecting something like heavy metal, you’ll be disappointed. There’s no distortion and little dissonance here. When there are guitars, they shimmer and twang in a way you might associate with a violent movie but that isn’t inherently violent by itself. You’re more likely to hear the low moan of a saxophone drifting overhead, or the bright pling of a vibraphone.
This is elegant, comforting, comfortable music, melancholy but never sad, best enjoyed with a glass of wine or on a midnight walk in the rain. They’ve been making this stuff since 1992, and though what’s on their ninth album Patchouli Blue doesn’t bear that much resemblance to their debut Gore Motel, the band’s sound has blossomed so slowly in that time – at the pace of one of their songs, perhaps – that it’s easy to think of their catalog as a single, monolithic thing.
Patchouli Blue is less keyboard-centric than their last album Piano Nights. While that album sounded like a cold wind drifting through an open window, this one feels more like a dimly lit study, draped in rare fabrics and filled with curiosities. Though a simple, steady beat undergirds nearly all Bohren compositions, usually augmented by a cymbal that sounds like beads dragging across a wooden floor, the beat has a tendency to stop on these tracks, as if to look around. Christoph Clöser’s saxophone eagerly fills in the gaps, and his playing throughout the record is more melodic than usual; you might mistake “Verwirrung am Strand” and “Deine Kusine” for jazz standards if you weren’t paying attention.
Bohren does not show much interest in sounding cool or disguising their influences and obsessions here. The title references an aromatic long associated with the disreputable stench of hippies. Producer and bandleader Morten Gass expands his keyboard palate substantially, dusting off his best Vangelis preset on “Sag mir, wie lang” and bracing “Meine Welt is schön” with a square-wave patch that sounds like something Oneohtrix Point Never might’ve used for the Uncut Gems score. Film soundtracks have always been central to Bohren’s imagination, which might explain the bent guitars of “Verwirrung.” So many Tarantino movies and imitators later, it’s hard to hear a surf guitar and not think of gangsters and shootouts and people getting the shit kicked out of them.
This goofiness doesn’t necessarily behoove Bohren. The contrast between their presentation and their patient, straight-faced music has always been central to their appeal. They sell themselves as heshers, but they play like monks, and that we can feel them grinning on this album strips away some of their mystique. Hearing this album, we perceive them as consumers of popular culture rather than silent figures on an endless journey to nowhere. Their best music opens up a new world. This music is content to exist in ours.