- by Joseph Majsterski Rating:8 Release Date:2016-03-06 Label: Bureau B
Hans-Joachim Roedelius is a true musical greybeard. As an original founding member of seminal German group Cluster, he's seen it all when it comes to the electronic scene. After the group's third breakup in 2010, he formed a new group called, aptly enough, Qluster, with Onnen Bock. The pair have managed to release half a dozen albums in as many years. Their newest set, Echtzeit, is a lush piece of retro-ambient bliss, taking the genre, unsurprisingly, back to its roots.
The work is piano heavy and has a very analog feel to it, and it's deeply introspective, loaded with the reflective wisdom of Roedelius' eight decades. "Beste Freunde" is the archetypal embodiment of this. It's almost entirely piano, with just the barest hint of electronics drifting in the background like a fog. It has an almost mournful feeling to it, and is utterly captivating. The title translates to "best friend", and with the recent death of Cluster co-founder Dieter Moebius, the meaning is clear.
Luckily, not everything here is so pensive, preventing the album from being a one-dimensional and depressing slog. The very next song, "Verweile doch", has a more playful electronic melody backed by old school keyboard work that songs quite like a church organ. The pendulum swings back the other way on the follow-up, 'Von weiter Ferne ganz nah', but slides off more in an embryonic, weightless direction rather than all the way back to minor key sadness.
And the album does a pretty good job of balancing the heavy tunes with the light, neither wallowing in misery nor prancing about in frivolity for too long before switching back. 'Zweties Kapitel' has an almost goofy, but highly optimistic synth melody pattering across stringy pads and is oh-so-short. It's followed up by the slow and creepy 'Das seltsame Tier aus dem Norden', which puts echoing keyboards over tinny, whistling, and pulsing effects lurking around in the shadows, to great effect. It reminds me of some of Aphex Twin's more disturbing work on Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2.
Although the set is generally excellent, not everything works, and the album does lose its steam towards the end with the plodding 'Auf der Lichtung', which is a bit too sparse for its own good. Unlike most of the songs, which have a strong emotional component, this track doesn't seem interested in doing much beyond simply existing. It has many of the same elements of other songs, but it just doesn't assemble them into anything meaningful. 'Weg am Hang' is similarly bland, trying but failing to achieve the creepiness that worked so well earlier in the album. Rather than feeling like an exploration in a dank basement with the hairs standing up on your neck, it's more like being in a waiting room and just wanting to get on with it.
Luckily, things end on an upbeat note, with the charming little musicbox melody of 'In deinen Händen', backed once again by solid piano work and swirly little synths. It clears the palette nicely and leaves a great cleansed sensation.
And that's it. The master has done it again, putting out an altogether wonderful work that any ambient fan will savor. Rather than trying too many gimmicky and high tech tricks, Qluster sticks to the ambient essentials and crafts a gem of simple beauty.