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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dieter Schöön: "Lablaza"

Take Beck and send him to Sweden, make him listen to equal parts German techno and Sonic Youth, get him really baked and put him in a studio; do all of these things and you might have a good idea of what Dieter Schöön sounds like.  Even then, though, actually defining Schöön's music is a lesson in futility.  Though almost entirely electronic, he often mixes in guitars, trumpets and saxophones to create music reminiscent of The Notwist.  His voice lies somewhere between the cool demeanor of Beck - to whom, I believe his music is most-comparable -and the lazy stylings of The Strokes' Julian Casablancas.  Too many names to keep up with, right?  I suppose it would've just been easier to say that Dieter Schöön is wholly original in a world where such a thing is a rare trait.

"Manuel" begins the album wonderfully, with a new-wavey feel that will pull almost anyone into Schöön's web.  His catchy electronic backing soon gives way to a freeform jazz saxophone solo in the vein of Stars' "He Lied About Death."  Layers and layers of electronics build on top of this to form a pile of sound beyond comparison.  The saxophone gives way to trumpet and acoustic guitar on "Mary Jane," a dance song-turned mariachi romp.  The song's breakbeat drums are miles ahead of Dieter's slow, maniacal croon, but this turns out to be a recurring theme on Lablaza that doesn't tire.
"The Harbour's Cold," for example, as one of the album's most energetic musical compositions.  Still, Schöön's melancholic voice goes at its own leisurely pace.  It is a very interesting aesthetic to say the least.  Listening to music my entire life, I am not accustomed to such an acceptable contradiction.  And as I stated before, this is something that Schöön explores throughout the album, like on the brief "Lot's of Free Shoes but Nowhere to Run" or the absolutely mind-blowing "I'll Go There."  The latter happens to be my favorite track on Lablaza.  It is here where he sounds most like Beck, though I can never imagine that artist singing something like, "Astrophonic testicles in the corn flakes."  The song's high point, however, is when all the instrumentation drops out to reveal a luscious 3-part harmony singing, "I'll go there/ because the freedom loves me."  Simply phenomenal.
Despite these wonderful moments, Lablaza is not without its share of missteps. Schöön's lyrics can sometimes be simple an repetitive, much like The Notwist.  However, where Markus Acher's repetition is catchy enough to be forgivable, Dieter's unique, plodding voice has the exact opposite effect.  On "Warm Hearts," he repeats one line throughout the song's 3 1/2 minutes and as a result, the song drags on for what feels like an eternity.  "Hogface" also features an annoyingly repetitive line, though the song changes its pace and style enough times to keep things mildly interesting.

These are small complaints, however, and for the most part, Lablaza is an absolutely mesmerizing listen.  I've listened to plenty of music in my life, but I can safely say that I've never heard anything quite like Dieter Schöön.  It took me a few listens before the genius of his unique brand of electronica dawned on me, but after it did, I just can't stop listening to it.  To be sure, many will be turned off by his abstract approach to a genre that is usually severely structured, but to me, this just adds to the enjoyment of listening to Lablaza.  Passive listeners beware:  you totally won't get it.  However, for those of you willing to give something several open and critical listens, Dieter Schöön's Lablaza is one of the most inventive and complex things you're likely to hear all year.

Key Tracks:
1. "Manuel"
2. "The Harbour's Cold"
3. "Jethead"
4. "I'll Go There"
5. "Everyone Must Leave"

8 out of 10 Stars

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