[CD Review] The Notwist, 'The Devil, You + Me' (Domino)

The Notwist are hard to pin down. Starting in the early '90s as a metal outfit, the German group have somehow quite naturally drifted onward and upward to the ethereal realm of electronic folk-pop. And they are so exceptionally adept at this style that it's no stretch to get completely dazzled by their dreamscapes and find yourself making comparisons to everyone from Radiohead (though the Notwist are rarely as large or ominous) to the Postal Service (the Notwist are smoother and more sophisticated) to the sensible arena-pop of Coldplay (the Notwist are too sonically ambitious to sell mainstream goods).

The disc opens with Neu!-like motorik beats that pitter-patter behind the graceful awakening of "Good Lies," which strums with a gorgeous build-up to a hesitant chorus in which Markus Acher's innocent voice reminds us to "Remember, the good lies win." Some nebulous entity called the "Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra" clashes strings with some angular technology—slicing, jarring, icy noises—on "Where in the World," a track that points back to Notwist member Martin Console's production work on Björk's Vespertine.

All of The Devil, You + Me exudes a sort of comfortable claustrophobia as it works through a range of curiosities—from the fascinating, ultra-mellow ballad "Hands on Us" to the grinding guitar-and-drum splatter of "Alphabet"—while still retaining a remarkable continuity. Much of that cohesion comes from Acher's voice, which calmly and effortlessly guides the whole trip. He's almost speaking, softly cooing a Nick Drake suavity and being the peacemaker for this wonderful experiment.


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