Thursday, 6 February 2014

Bohren & der Club of Gore - Piano Nights‏

Bohren and Der Club of Gore, a German four-piece dark ambient jazz band has been around for a good 21 years now. The band make eerie soothing records and have a unique perspective in doing so, they themselves being all from hardcore and metal backgrounds. Indeed, there is an element of some of their background IN the music, especially on some of their earlier records, the drone elements large, in records like Black Earth. For the most part however, they seem to tread on the downtempo and soothing ambient jazz side of things.  

Bohren has made eight records, and the majority of them have been pretty great. Their earlier records don’t have as long in terms of shelf life as their later ones, but they certainly aren’t bad albums and if you listen to them chronologically - you can hear a progression of talent and skill that definitely resonates in all their albums from the turn of the century onward. Indeed, it is 2000’s Sunset Mission that comes as the band’s first great work. Their first in a trilogy of albums to be released on Wonder, a Hamburg label with a focus on music of their style, perhaps giving them a bit more leeway to do what they want on their albums. If it was this or an increase in skill overtime, their next few albums would continue the standard set on Sunset Mission and bring them to a new status as veterans of the genre. 

Their next albums, Black Earth and Geisterfaust saw the band start to gain notoriety in North America as well as Eastern Europe. Geisterfaust saw positive reviews from Pitchfork as well as Dusted and indeed, it is probably their best record to this point aside from perhaps Sunset Mission. Geisterfaust plays like a more traditional jazz record, with five longer tracks, as opposed to some of their other records, with as many as 12 shorter tracks. They would follow Geisterfaust with Dolores, their most successful and acclaimed record-to-date. They would leave Wonder for this one, releasing it on Play it Again Sam Records in Europe and Mike Patton’s label Ipecac in the States. Perhaps because of this dual-release, or the bands prior success, it was huge. Well, huge for ambient horror-jazz anyway. Two steps forward, one step back, as the saying goes, their next release back on Wonder was Beileid their shortest album, only two new tracks on top of a cover of a Warlock song with lyrics from Mike Patton, who also distributed this record on his label, same as Dolores. It’s not a terrible record, but certainly their weakest since before Sunset Mission. Again, not atrocious, but certainly a slight eyebrow raiser, from a band who had just released four consistently excellent records. 

And now, three years later, Piano Nights a tirelessly excellent record, akin to its predecessors but also surprisingly dissimilar! While Piano Nights indeed contains all the familiar styles of Bohren, with tons of ambience and dark horrorful jazz, it also holds a new lighter tone…a warmer sound, not present in any of their prior materials. This more comforting and glowing sound is light years from the gloomy impending doom of Sunset Mission, a sound not far perhaps from the soundtrack to a movie like The Big Sleep or M. This could see itself providing sound for one of those kinds of films too, but in a far less depressing way. This actually seems to work really well for the band. The track “Segen ohne Wind” is bursting with a more uplifting sound. Uncharacteristic perhaps, but very enjoyable.

Ganz leise kommt die Nacht” is a high point of the record, showcasing the bands instrumental skills as well as form, with great rises and falls like a ballad from a classical music album.  “Verlonen (Alles)” is the true centrepiece of the record, although it's at the end, a towering 10 minute track complete with the best saxophone anywhere in a Bohren track I’ve heard. They’re really outdone themselves here, I really enjoyed this record a lot more than I thought I was going to. A great night is to be had here, after a hard day’s laboring, climbing into a car in negative temperatures, waiting for the engine to warm and listening to the chilling sounds of Piano Nights
~Johnny Hoel


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