To Rococo Rot - Instrument

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2014-07-21

The seminal Berlin-based electronica trio’s first album in four years is their first to feature vocals, provided by no wave pioneer and fan Arto Lindsay. This development, or the time spent away, doesn’t seem to have affected their sound too much. Lindsay’s vocals, which feature on three tracks, are unobtrusive, light and fey, while the words he sings are sketchy, cryptic sound-paintings.

The most interesting thing about Lindsay’s contributions is how they bring To Rococo Rot’s compositions into something like conventional song structures for the first time. ‘Many Descriptions’, for example, sounds like a latterday Depeche Mode song, its burbling goth undercurrents and industrial atmosphere held at bay by Lindsay’s fluttering voice.

‘Classify’ returns to the trio’s signature sound of clattering, live-sounding instrumentation shifted into a cut-and-paste electronica context. It’s a lovely piece of music but I’m not sure if Lindsay’s detached voice really adds much. ‘Longest Escalator in the World’, meanwhile, focuses more on its shifting soundscape of oscillating synths and dissonant guitar noise than on Lindsay’s vocals, which don’t appear until halfway through.

More satisfying are some of the instrumental tracks. ‘Besides’ combines Four Tet post-rock jazz with squelching analogue synth, while ‘Down in the Traffic’ romps along on an Add N to (X) style synth-glitter beat. Meanwhile, ‘Baritone’ mixes early house beats with live percussion and ‘Pro Model’, the most energetic track here, squeaks along on tweaked, ping-ponging string sounds.

That gnomic album title actually serves as a neat indication that we shouldn’t get too caught up in the new vocal element to the group’s music. Rather than making them clear, communicative and conventional, Instrument occasionally finds To Rococo Rot at their most insular and frosty. However, the music here is also frequently beautiful, intricate, autumnal and absorbing, and worth the effort of discovery. 

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