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The Notwist: Vertigo Days

There was a time where it seemed like The Notwist were on the cusp of becoming a prestige indie band, the kind for whom “event” albums could be counted on. 2002’s Neon Golden felt like a turning point for the band and pushed them to the brink of that stature. It’s a beautiful album that makes its job of worming its way into your heart and mind almost too easy, with the influence of electronic music inflicting itself on the creative processes of core members Markus and Micha Acher. From there, The Notwist didn’t get bad, but they did become inconsistent – it would take another six years before they’d follow up Neon Golden with 2008’s The Devil, You + Me, and another six for 2014’s Close to the Glass – both of which were albums that felt good, but never matched the excellence of Neon Golden. One year later, they’d put out the entirely-instrumental, entirely-forgettable The Messier Objects, which is less of an album than a band spinning their wheels with a stopgap release.

It isn’t as though the Notwist Musical Universe hasn’t seen great music, though, and the years since their last truly excellent record have been filled with plenty of boundary-pushing and engaging music, just not under the Notwist name. Outside of the hip-hop/indie rock fusion group 13 & God, there’s also the compilation Minna Miteru, a collection of rare Japanese indie music Markus made in collaboration with the Japanese dream-pop outfit Tenniscoats, who also help make up the equally-dreamy supergroup Spirit Fest. In listening to the newest from The Notwist, Vertigo Days, it feels like Markus Acher’s musical obsessions have informed the band’s current sound almost as much as anything they’ve put out under this banner, and cleaves closer to the magic found in their best work than anything on The Devil or Close to the Glass.

Vertigo Days is easy to love pretty much immediately. Opening snippet “Al Norte” is full of hypnotic drums and weird electronic snippets that sound caught in between human and machine, and despite being just under one minute long, the fascinating atmosphere of it – and the way it collides with the solemn pianos that announce “Into Love/Stars” – it feels like it was designed to draw your ear as efficiently as possible. The bulk of the record is like this, and it does it in a variety of ways. Sometimes, it’s just overwhelmingly charming, as on the gentle and bouncy “Where You Find Me,” which feels like it glides along splendidly with Acher’s almost sing-songy voice, gleefully overrunning the meter of lines. And this is without even touching on the exuberance some songs and moments exude, like the ridiculously percussive Juana Malina-featuring “Al Sur” or the almost-Múmlike closer “Into Love Again,” which sees The Notwist joined by Saya’s other other band, Zayaendo to leave us wanting far more of them on the record.

It feels like every other song, or even chunks of songs, are the band at their best and most willfully different. “Exit Strategy to Myself” treats us to Can-level krautrock grooves, with Acher’s echo-laden vocals dividing and recombining at will as the track’s guitar noise becomes louder and more disorienting. The one-two punch of “Into the Ice Age” and “Oh Sweet Fire is pure magic. The former is a dreamy bit of psychedelia with a hypnotic bassline and Angel Bat Dawid’s clarinet drifting in and out of the frame – it’s a song that pulls you in enough that you can totally miss that it takes Acher more than 2 minutes to sing anything. The latter, “Oh Sweet Fire,” is constructed entirely out of haze and groovy bass, Acher – again – letting his voice echo and drift across the surface of the music. Then, halfway through, modern jazz maestro Ben LaMar Gay’s voice, commanding enough to give you whiplash the first time you hear the song. Then there’s “Ship,” which allows us to willfully transition into a Notwist/Spirit Fest-fusion atmosphere, complete with Tenniscoats/Spirit Fest singer Saya Ueno who seems highly willing to take the spotlight and duet with Acher on his court. The end result is something akin to Stereolab, making it one of the most bulletproof songs on Vertigo Days.

Vertigo Days is a record that imagines that the years of middling albums since The Notwist tapped into their own brand of perfection with Neon Golden never happened, and that those years were instead sprinkled with ones where they were unafraid to make charming, twinkly music that spanned continents. Even better, it imagines that, instead of trying to just make Neon Golden 2, they elegantly built on everything that works in their music even outside of that high-water mark. It begs you to spend time in it regularly, since every listen reveals more charms and excellence. In short, it’s one of the most essential albums of this young year – and one of the most satisfying comeback stories you could ask for, from a band that finally feels like the prestige band they were always meant to be.

Summary
It feels like Markus Acher’s musical obsessions have informed the Notwist’s current sound almost as much as anything they’ve put out under this banner, and cleaves closer to the magic found in their best work than anything on The Devil or Close to the Glass.
80 %
Prestige at Last
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