As far as songs go, “Close to the Glass” and “Kong” make for a bizarre set of twins.
Instrumentally, these tracks could be the work of two entirely different bands. “Glass” is moody and inscrutable, blasted through with dissonant percussion and ghostly voices that spout clipped phrases over the top of one another. Then there’s “Kong,” a slice warm and breezy indie rock that’s chug-chug-chugging along like a lost relic from 120 Minutes.
The only link between these two siblings is the voice of The Notwist’s Markus Acher, flat, frill-free and lightly seasoned in a German accent. The fact that both of these tracks appear on The Notwist’s new album is notable; the fact that they follow each other back-to-back is downright fascinating.
Close to the Glass plays like the band’s entire, disparate discography set on shuffle. There’s the aforementioned poppy earworm “Kong,” extended ambient pieces, some scuzzy shoegaze, acoustic balladry and glitchy electronic dispatches. It’s similar in many ways to Radiohead’s Amnesiac, with each track bringing a new stylistic detour.
The results are, as you might imagine, an odd mongrel mix, but one with lots of curious nooks to explore.
The acoustic “Casino” is about as stripped bare as The Notwist gets, and it allows for some emotional directness that’s usually obscured by the group’s production flourishes. “There’s something wrong with me,” Acher sings, and it’s a perfect setting that allows his plain voice to stand unadorned and vulnerable.
“7-Hour-Drive” turns the guitar fuzz up to 11 and shoves in the sound of a stalling motor to disrupt the usual rock song flow. And “Run Run Run” is a curious nugget of deconstructed blues music, chopped up and remixed into its own little micro-genre.
Even with ample diversions, there’s also a small heap of filler tracks that feel like either half-fleshed sketches or lost tape experiments. Ever since the addition of electronics-oriented band member Martin Gretchmann in 1997, The Notwist has played tug-of-war between organic and synthetic elements in its music. But on Close to the Glass, the results are more fractured and schizophrenic than ever.
Still, there’s something bold and unusual about The Notwist releasing this sort of grab bag as its big Sub Pop debut. That takes some veteran confidence, and The Notwist pulls some delightful diversions out of its hat more often than not.