By Sal Hassanpour
It always sucks to review something crappy from an artist one loves. Case in point: Walls, Apparat’s first full-length solo album in four years. Apparat is one Sascha Ring, co-founder of the Berlin-based label Shitkatapult. His music has seemed out of place there, especially since the other co-founder, T. Raumschmiere, became iconic poster-boy of the glam-inspired “schaffel-beat” movement, a flash-in-the-pan back in (ancient) 2004.
Apparat’s output has been progressively outdoing itself since 2001. His steady EP releases blend sub-genres of electronic music holistically: you get the fluorescent-expressway rhythm that characterizes Berlin-tech, the obsessive ornamental details of glitch, and the wistful melodies of more pop-friendly IDM, often on the same track. It’s the kind of electronica that would be more readily found, by those who follow these things, on such labels as BPitch Control and Neo Ouija, which have served as temporary homes for Apparat in the past. In fact, 2006’s Orchestra of Bubbles saw Apparat work with BPitch owner Ellen Allien, creating Berlin-tech’s most-listened-to album, and electronic music’s hottest female/male team, to boot.
Walls is Apparat’s most pop-oriented work yet. The tight, minimal rhythms that constituted Apparat’s aural vocabulary are bypassed in favour of a more maximal production. A far cry from schaffel-beat, then. One only wonders if this move is a result of lingering creative sparks raised by last year’s partnership. Indeed, Sascha Ring has called Walls a “compilation” of two years’ worth of previously-incomplete tracks.
The sad truth is that Walls actually does feel like an odds-and-sods collection. And — just as Air’s recent Pocket Symphony has been accused of leading the listener to boredom, due to the band’s restraint and austerity — Walls does much the same through Apparat’s newfound pop-ambition and aural extravagance.
Starter “Not A Number” is promising, as sine-waves prefigure what I can only describe as a porcelain-bowl vibraphone. Before long, strings appear and weave their melodies through the ensuing polyrhythms. It all sounds like something you’d expect from the colourful, melodic post-rock of Fridge. Unfortunately, hopes are dashed by “Hailin’ From the Edge,” an insipid piece of hi-tech R&B with belaboured vocals from erstwhile Apparat singer Raz Ohara that, like many of Walls‘ tracks, overstays its welcome by a full minute.
Later, on the other hand, the rhythm guitar in “Fractales Pt.1″ evokes the much-loved “indietronic” sound first pioneered in Germany. “Birds” is a delightful moment of glitch-pop, as Apparat himself takes his first-ever stab at vocals. It comes off as well as anything the Morr Music label releases in abundance (i.e. Lali Puna). The sturdiness of Walls is only revealed in its second half, where Apparat’s ambitions finally bear fruit with the warm shoegaze of “Headup”, the album highlight.
I can only surmise that for those not familiar with Apparat, Walls will appear as a mildly interesting electronic pop album, at best. I imagine that fans, however, will suffer disappointment for the first (but hopefully last) time.