Monday, September 22, 2008

Review: Sankt Otten - Fernfahrer

Artist: Sankt Otten
Album: Fernfahrer [single]
Year: 2008
Rating: 5/5

(Written on 21 August 2008)

The night sings from a million violins. In one corner of the carpool's black garden: a solitary one-floor construction. Behind its only few windows (almost completely covered with newspapers) there's a dark that is only damaged by indigo light rays (from an unknown source) covering the empty walls like TV snow or a lightning bolt. No one else on the street cares about what's happening.

This is the kind of atmosphere that Sankt Otten manage to evoke with just about every song on Eine Kleine Traurigkeit, their first and probably best album. But this review isn't about Eine Kleine Traurigkeit, but about Fernfahrer, which manages though to be characteristic for the entire album. Nonetheless, let's talk about more than the main and unique characteristics of the singles - that would be too "by the book", don't you think?

"Fernfahrer" could most probably be considered an elegy. A quite low-key song, it starts with an electronic aura that's more likely a reminiscene of trip-hop classics like Massive Attack's Angel than the signature Sankt Otten aura that does appear later in the song. At about 0:35 a drum beat appears and stays for the rest of the song; the drums might seem at first rough, but soon enough they prove to be slow and subtle enough to fit in the atmosphere. Complete with breezy strings and even some guitar riffs (they don't overtake the song though like on some of the instrumentals in Sankt Otten's second album), the song could fit in a spy movie soundtrack, especially on sneaking moments, but Sankt Otten music was never merely a soundtrack; above all, the song is a soundscape. Like in dreams where every 'pixel' is filled with emotion, every element of this soundscape has substance. Even the vocals, in lyrics you might not understand.

Over the years, the term trip-hop has been so abused that it is now considered by some obsolete, while most people still don't know what it really is. Containing both dream and reality at its ends, the trip-hop sound could be described as the postmodern version of other surreal sounds, embedding the anti-metaphysics of postmodernism in a paradoxal vision. Or just walk on an empty, dark street at midnight and gaze at the stars which seem to be staring at you, and you might learn the true definition of trip-hop, one that is not a (sub)genre as it is a mix of emotions.

Sankt Otten know this all too well. You could likely start gazing at the stars when the vocals reach their emotional apex - one of sweet oblivion. The fact that the lyrics are in German and that the singer is male might irritate many people who consider themselves fans of the trip-hop sound, but voice textures should be enough to figure out what the song is about. Or simply re-invent it (a really great thing about postmodernism). Nevertheless, the vocals (often haunting) never manage to annoy - they aren't as masculine as German language would pretend as they are androgynous. The blurring line between masculine and feminine, Ying and Yang, light and darkness, good and evil, certainty and uncertainty - see how many ways to find the definition of the night in this song?

Enough about the "chatter". If you really didn't have the patience to read the whole review, here's my short and simple piece of advice: get it now. After the long-awaited reissue, you will really have no excuse to listen to this single or another; you must listen to the whole album from the first to the last track to "get it". Get it?

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