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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Bohren & Der Club of Gore: Piano Nights (Play it again Sam, 2014) **** ½

An Artist Deep Dive
By Martin Schray

If you want to listen to Bohren & Der Club of Gore properly it might help if you follow these rules:
  1. Don’t start listening to their music before 2 a.m. at night
  2. Make sure that you are alone
  3. One of the following:
    1. If possible take a ride through western Germany’s Ruhr area on a deserted highway so that you can see the huge electric power stations (respectively any other highly industrialized area) 
    2. If you don’t want to drive turn out the lights and make sure that you sit at the window;  you might also have a glass of absinthe (not too much)
  4. Take a deep breath before you start
  5. Play it loud
  6. Don’t be afraid of your emotions, feel free to cry
  7. Let yourself go
As you can see this band is different from those we usually review on this site. No matter if you like it or not, Bohren’s music is unique (after a concert a friend of mine said that it was like watching Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now” endlessly repeating “The horror, the horror”), and in a similar attempt to pigeonhole it critics have indeed described it as “horror jazz”. It has also been described as a doom jazz version of Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtracks for David Lynch’s films or the perfect music for a modern European film noir. Albeit there is a grain of truth in these categorizations - particularly in the fact that there is a certain scoundscape quality to their music, for example in “Komm zurück zu mir” (Come back to me), in which Morten Gass plays guitar chords which he seems to have taken from Twin Peaks - Bohren’s music is much more that.

The band’s central idea is to build up textures – usually with endless organ or mellotron chords – in which they sink monstrous piano and bass chords with an unprecedented creepiness, like in “Fahr zur Hölle” (Go to Hell). There are drums, but they do not deliver a beat or at least a pulse, they are more like red wine slowly dropping in slow motion on a white table cloth – over and over again. And more than anything else Bohren try to illuminate the imaginary space a single chord or a single note can create and they savor it to the fullest because they stick to their concept in a relentlessly consequent way.

But there is another side to this approach as well – a heartbreaking emotionality. A track like “Ganz leise kommt die Nacht” (Night comes very silent) starts with lost vibraphone notes, they seem to drift through the air before Bohren add their typical chords. Then Christoph Clöser intersperses a forlorn melody on the saxophone which vanishes as suddenly as it appeared.

This music drags you away from your daily routine, it offers respite from the fast pace of our cities, it lends you a hand, it gives you solace – like a friend.

Bohren & Der Club of Gore are Morten Gass (organ, mellotron, baritone guitar, piano), Christoph Clöser (piano, saxes, vibraphone), Robin Rodenberg (double bass) and Thorsten Benning (drums),

“Piano Nights” is available on 180 g double vinyl (CD included) and on CD.

Listen to it here:

Further recommendations:

Bohren & Der Club Of Gore: Sunset Mission (Wonder, 2000) **** ½
Their third album (after Gore Motel and Midnight Radio) is their first masterpiece. It is the blueprint for their future works and especially saxophone and vibraphone are of a dark melancholic yearning that you have hardly ever heard before.

Bohren & Der Club Of Gore: Black Earth (Wonder, 2002) *****
Their opus magnum - even more abysmal, darker, slower and tougher than “Sunset Mission”. Again there is the soundscape quality, music cold as the air of a winter’s night but under the surface there is also something really warm. The names of tracks like “Skeletal Remains”, “Constant Fear” or “The Art of Coffins” say more than all the words.

Bohren & Der Club Of Gore: Dolores (Play it again Sam, 2008) ****
After they left out the saxophone on the predecessor Geisterfaust Bohren bring it back on this album and they also include a church organ. The result is that they find back to their old tristesse and the titles show some kind of humor as well (“Still am Tresen”, which can be translated as “Silent at the bar”).

Bohren & Der Club Of Gore: Beileid (Play it again Sam, 2011) ***
For the first time Bohren include vocals on an album – and invited Mike Patton to do the job. The central track “Catch my Heart” is a cover version of a ballad by Germany’s hard rock band Warlock and they transform the cheesy original into a gloomy piece of art. A nice mini album which cannot quite compete with its predecessors.


Danas Mikailionis said...

Thank you Martin for this very interesting review.
I didn't even hear Bohren's name so far, so I was very curios and already ordered "Black Earth".
Anticipate adventurous listening.

Alexander G. said...

I stumbled over this blog and I like the reviews. Bohren is my favourite band. I would love to hear your thoughts on "Geisterfaust" their most extreme and in my opinion best release.

Fergus said...

Hi Martin,

Thanks also for the Bohren overview; this stuff sounds like awesome doom jazz!

A question to you, but also to Danas: where can one buy "Black Earth" on vinyl for an affordable price?

Fergus said...

Hi Martin,
thanks for the overview: this sounds awesome!

@ Martin and Danas: you wouldn't happen to know where you can buy "Black Earth" on vinyl?

Martin Schray said...

Dear Fergus,
bad news. "Black Earth" is not available on vinyl for a reasonable price. It was a limited edition. I also have only the CD version. Even other Bohren albums are very hard to get on vinyl. But the new one is available and a real treat, you can trust me here.

To Alexander: Thanks very much for the nice words. It's great that you discovered our blog by chance, maybe you will revisit us now and then. We would be delighted. I like "Geisterfaust" a lot, it is a unique album in Bohren's career. But I like their saxophone very much and I somehow miss it on this one. On the other hand it was worth trying an album without it, as well as the experiment with the vocals on "Beileid". It's a great album and nobody who buys it will regret it.