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To Rococo Rot - Instrument

"Instrument"

Release date: 21 July 2014
6/10
To Rococo Rot Instrument
07 August 2014, 13:30 Written by Adam Nelson
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Berlin-based trio To Rococo Rot are now in their eighteenth year and, despite their many imitators, continue to sound fresh and innovative. On Instrument, their first album in four years, they choose their influences wisely, yet are only ever really capable of sounding like To Rococo Rot. The discordant, plonking piano on “Spreading the Strings Out” comes straight from the John Cage songbook; “Sunrise”’s warped ambience is pure John Cale. To Rococo Rot pitch their sound on Instrument somewhere between these two poles of twentieth century avant-gardism, and while the results are always interesting, they often aren’t overly enjoyable.

Cale tells a story that the working method for The Velvet Underground would entail Lou Reed writing a traditional pop song, in order for Cale to cut right across it with heavily distorted, contrapuntal noise. Much of Instrument is reminiscent of this: the rhythm section of Ronald Lippok and Stefan Schneider often seem to be playing a different track entirely to the one Robert Lippok is crafting around them variously with piano, guitars and, most prominently, surreal synthesised electronica.

Arto Lindsay’s guest vocal spots on three of the ten tracks here are curious. On the one hand, his vocal style and obtuse lyrics seem a snug fit for TRR; indeed, his tracks are among the strongest on display here. On the other hand, his limited presence serves to highlight his absence on much of the rest of the record. “Baritone” sounds cut for a vocal which never arrives, it lacks a crucial sense of vitality and makes poor use of Schneider’s beautifully melodic bassline, which, great hook though it may be, cannot carry the track’s four-and-a-half minute length on its own.

Much of the album carries this sense of being a showpiece for one of its individual elements – more often than not, it is Ronald Lippok’s shuffling percussion which breathes life into Instrument. That title, then – singular, not plural – seems apt. Similar to the problems that plagued Radiohead’s The King of Limbs, even when each instrumental part has something to recommend it, there is a fundamental lack of cohesion to To Rococo Rot here. Unity is provided by Lindsay during his appearances, and occasionally by Robert Lippok, who, when he hits his stride, can create something as joyous as the aforementioned “Spreading the Strings Out,” whose rhythmic piano and skittish synths sail over his bandmates’ solid rhythmic platform, creating the kind of song To Rococo Rot made their reputation with and sadly fail to make frequently enough here.

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