2007 in Music – Part 2: Goodbye

Goodbye coverAfter his previous two albums, Ulrich Schnauss’ Goodbye was a relatively anticipated album with respect to mainstream publications to electronic music. Schnauss had a pretty good formula for tracks on Faraway Trains Passing By and A Strangely Isolated Place, which consisted of putting some lovely bell-like melodies and uplifting harmonies over a simple but catchy bassline and an unabashedly simple percussion layer. Each of these layers were fairly distinct and at most points you can pick out the individual lines and follow them to see what Schnauss is doing. Goodbye almost completely strips these elements of their autonomy. The opening track, “Never Be the Same”, is a fine example of this. Even at the end of track, you’re not sure if the album is really underway or if it was just a 5 minute introduction. Really, most of the album is this way, with each track having the quality of an intro or an outro that would’ve been found on a previous Schnauss album.

As I described above, Schnauss’ percussion layers are unabashedly simple. This is not a bad thing; however, Schnauss seems to think it is judging by the way he hides them among the levels of synthesizer harmonies. The percussion in each track is practically interchangeable and not at all distinctive. Just turning up the levels for the drum lines would help a good deal. The lo-fi, barely processed (maybe a filter or two) quality of the rhythm sections of tracks like “Nobody’s Home” and “Monday Paracetamol” was quite charming and without it, Schnauss’ music seems to lose some of its naivete. The fun, childlike melodies are dropped, too, leaving a bland cacophony. The loss of innocence in Goodbye is similar to that of Boards of Canada’s The Campfire Headphase. But while Boards of Canada replaced their simple lo-fi drums and clever melodies with a savvy combination of guitar and polished rhythms, Schnauss’ are just sort of dropped.

However, in “Goodbye” is found a welcome surprise. Among the generally sweeping synthesizers of the album is a little melody that doesn’t emerge until almost five minutes in. Surprisingly, its a plucked-string sound and not a music box like sound as found in something like “Knuddelmaus”. Its not so much the melody itself, which is a pretty stepwise one, but the texture of it and the way it contrasts with most of the rest of the album. It seems like Schnauss realizes the weight given to a distinct melody in an album full of sweeping pads and saves it until the finale. Though its rise is fairly unexpected, earlier tracks like “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” do hint at it. Though “For Good”, is actually the final track, it serves more as a coda with some strummed guitar which eventually is consumed by soft synthesizer chords.

This is a fairly disappointing release from Ulrich Schnauss, who is much more intent on creating washed-out new age sounds than the fun electronic melodies of albums past. Where are we supposed to focus in Goodbye? There are still some nice things going on, but none stand out and there are very few melodies of interest throughout the album. It’s just a blur, which may be what Schnauss is going for – an album which is leaving the listener behind, emphasizing the themes of bittersweet goodbyes strewn throughout his oeuvre.

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