Review: Karl Bartos – Off the Record
Published on April 12th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
An erstwhile member of the ‘classic’ Kraftwerk lineup along with Ralf Hütter, Florian Schneider and Wolfgang Flür, Karl Bartos returned to some old recordings of his for Off the Record and wound up constructing a beaming monument to the past that, for all its robot vocals and old-school synthery, doesn’t sound out of place in the now. We couldn’t tell you whether this owes more to the timelessness of the sounds at hand or the unabating retro-mindedness of so many of today’s musicians, but frankly we don’t much care either way when it’s this colourful, warm and downright human-sounding through its mechanical veneer.
First up is the single “Atomium”, a berserk assault of orchestra hits, that signature robot voice and a pounding, squelchy rhythm section. There are ‘cartoon villain’ interludes of plastic cello, a synth bubbling out of control and an overall impression of ‘Transformers on acid’, laying down the law for the likes of “Nachtfahrt”, “International Velvet” and “Without a Trace of Emotion” to work their poppier inclinations around. Later on in the running order, “The Tuning of the World” embraces this relative cuddliness while aligning it to lines like “I wish I could believe in God / Life would be just safe and sound” and “I hope I die gracefully”, smartly drawing attention to the human heart that beats amidst all the heaving geometric shapes and skittering electronics.
Elsewhere, “The Binary” treats us to a bubbling pocket symphony of Gameboys, “Musica Ex Machina” to a ruddy great stomp orbited by shuddering, shimmering synth arpeggios, “Instant Bayreuth” to an air of space-gazing wonderment and “Vox Humana” to what sounds like an induction into an extraterrestrial laboratory. All of which leaves “Rhythmus” to send off the album on perhaps its highest note, appropriating the beat from Kraftwerk’s “Numbers” into a gurgling rapture that really is quite masterful, not that we should be surprised to hear it emanating from someone of Bartos’s pedigree.
Off the Record is hardly going to change the landscape of electronic music irrevocably but its updating of tried and trusted textures feels more valid coming from a member of the old vanguard, and more satisfying for being hewn from his own particular talents.
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!
Off the Record is out now on bureau-b. For more information, please click here to visit the official Karl Bartos website.