Nicoffeine - Au Revoir Golden Air (and more)

It's been a while since we've heard from Germany's Nicoffeine, and their latest LP, "Au Revoir Golden Air," shows continued evolution toward new atmospheres. Dating back to the early 00s, this band has deep roots in various forms of aggressive music, but with each new album, their unique marriage of harsh noise textures and surprisingly tuneful melodic sections grows increasingly focused.

For a band that spends a lot of time approaching the volume levels of a power electronics act, "Au Revoir" opens with a marvelously subtle gesture, gradually lifting out of silence into a chorus of weirdly harmonized and modulated vocals in the first minutes of "Goldenbergersteeg." While a pad of these almost Residents-sounding vocals fades and returns throughout the piece, drummer Jorg Schneider sets the mood with a stuttering drum riff, his kick drum heavy in the mix. Second track "Wolf in Bathtub" then establishes the kind of contrast that defines Nicoffeine, centering around a relatively conventional uptempo tritone-bassed riff, tons of distortion, and layers of slithering noise and feedback.

While there is plenty of guitar on this album, Soheyl Nassary's approach this time around obscures the recognizable sounds of "rock guitar" tones at every opportunity. A lot of his riffs, like the trippy "Ando Guerillo" or "Sunstudio Wizard," are blasted through ring mods and assertive distortions, which turn his lines into harsh textural splashes while bassist Guido Lucas plays in unison, defining the actual pitches. Even when the ring mod is off, most of his tones have a touch of harmonizer blended in with a bit of very short delay that cause the guitars to feel like they're trapped within their own artificial spaces, absorbing a bit of the tonal mass of meaty synth sounds. Sometimes it sounds like a whammy pedal is turned on and displaced up an octave, too, adding to the tonal surprises.

Schneider's playing is busier overall than the last few Nicoffeine albums, with a lot more tom rolls--his crazy workouts in Jealousy Mountain Duo must be rubbing off! His playing here continues to focus on creating distinctive drum parts for each piece, though, and his rock playing is harder and more pugnacious than ever.

Lucas' bass work is the melodic anchor on the most aggressive sections of this record, taking over riff-playing duties with alternating clean and distorted tones while effected guitars, feedback, and rumbling/squealing synths explode in every direction. While the bass holds things together, the actual mix of this music almost becomes an additional instrument: as the album progresses, parts of the drum kit, especially the kick drum, are pushed underneath concentrations of low-frequency noise that seem to be made of equal parts synths and overworked amplifiers. Listening to this album on headphones, you get weird upheavals in the perceived space the band is playing in, expanding and contracting and occasionally bursting into moments of high-frequency barrages.

But everyone returns to the same room on the balanced, serene album closer, the 13-minute epic title track. Guitars sound like guitars and synth/noise textures are subdued for most of this piece, opening with gentle chordal strumming and some wah accents, and the band goes into a lengthy postrock arrangement from there. A few reverb-drenched vocal lines in the first third of the piece remind me of Kayo Dot, and the music rises and falls carefully over time, not heading toward detonation this time.

The music feels very mature and serious this time around, but Nicoffeine shows their lighter side in the packaging: a new Nicoffeine logo on the back cover parodies the mid-80s "Point of Entry" era Judas Priest logo, and the band photo on the inside of this beautifully designed gatefold jacket totally cracked me up, with Nassary taking the world's biggest yawn.

"Au Revoir Golden Air" will be released in August on Blunoise in LP and CD formats, but if you just want a digital copy, you can proceed to Nicoffeine's BandCamp page right now. Nicoffeine tours regularly in Europe, and they're planning a US tour toward the fall of this year--keep up with tour dates on their Facebook page.

A few related albums
When Schneider sends these albums over from Germany, he often includes recordings of previous bands he's worked with. It's been a great opportunity for me to learn a bit about the experimental rock scene in Germany over the past decade or so, mostly centering around releases from the Blunoise label, which is operated by Nicoffeine bassist Lucas. These guys have been working in noisy, crazy rock circles since the 90s, when both Schneider and Lucas played stints in Les Hommes Qui Wear Espandrillos.

Since then, Schneider has played in a variety of interesting configurations that include:

Gaffa - Hundred Reasons to Kiss the Ground
Before Schneider and guitarist Berger began playing as Jealousy Mountain Duo, they played together as a less kinetic "slowcore" act called Gaffa. This music reminds me a lot of the Chicago Touch & Go scene, with maybe a little of the introspection of Low thrown in for good measure. There are great tunes, simple and direct, and unlike the spry instrumental voyages of JMD, this album has a lot of vocals, capably delivered by Berger.

Tarngo - Horman
Another duo band, Tarngo found Schneider working with bassist Scharco on a couple of albums. These are riff-based uptempo jams, featuring a variety of juicy overdriven bass tones and lots of creative cymbal work that foreshadows Schneider's later playing in JMD. If you're into intense Skin Graft-y instrumentals with a touch of math, you'll dig "Horman" a lot.

Jorg has sent along both of his albums with Fischessen, the debut "Suicide is Much Too Blonde" and followup "Koder," and I think these are my favorite work of his outside of JMD and Nicoffeine. "Koder" is a classic instrumental power trio record with Yvonne Nussbaum on bass and Tarngo's Scharco very capably moving over to guitar. Great playing and great songwriting in mostly postrock atmospheres dominates this record, and it's a bummer that it seems to be pretty obscure, not even showing up on Discogs. "Suicide is Much Too Blonde" captured the band in a period with a larger lineup, and it includes occasional vocal and synth accents. Fantastic, inspired writing, this debut feels a little more playful than Koder, and includes my favorite song of this band, "Wolfskull." Highly recommended.

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