Lloyd Cole / Hans-Joachim Roedelius
Selected Studies, Vol. 1
Bureau B; 2013
By Nick Neyland; March 1, 2013
Pitchfork’s Brian Howe provided a useful overview of Hans-Joachim Roedelius in his review of Qluster’s Lauschen, noting how prolific the krautrock elder statesman has been in his career. The paint has barely dried on Lauschen, but another full-length album from Roedelius has already surfaced, this time in the form of a collaboration with bookish singer-songwriter Lloyd Cole. Initially it feels like an absurd pairing, with little common ground to be found between Cole’s snappy, literate guitar rock and his new partner’s fondness for expansive electronic introspection. The duo have spent most of their careers orbiting completely different spheres. But in 2001 Cole released a solo album named Plastic Wood, a record of delicately spun ambient tracks that owed a debt to Roedelius’s output in Cluster. The pair subsequently corresponded, met in person, and plotted Selected Studies Vol. 1 by exchanging files online. If you’re an artist contemplating work within a discrete electronic framework, as Cole has been inclined, it helps to have one of the all-time greats on board as a collaborator.
This is an album firmly embedded in Roedelius’s world. There are no vocals, nothing that resembles a guitar sound, no devotion to pop or rock structure. It’s not clear who did what, although it’s tempting to cast Cole as a student learning from a master of the genre. To do so wouldn’t be entirely fair. Plastic Wood demonstrated Cole’s understanding of this type of work, even if it did meander into aimless drift at times. That’s a key difference between Cluster and many of the acts that use them as a starting point– they never coasted, always looked for new sounds, constantly stretched at boundaries. There’s a sense of adventure to Roedelius that he hasn’t lost at the age of 78. Like Lauschen, this isnt an essential document in his career, but it is a further example of him working in tandem with someone to help reshape his putty-like template. There’s a sense of another mission accomplished by the time they reach the otherworldly music box feel of the closing “Lullerby”, a sense that Roedelius has planted flags in some small new areas that were awaiting his discovery.
There are two types of mood that Selected Studies dips into, both carrying just enough thematic ties to make the album gel as a whole. The first type is full of sparse, hollowed-out corners, rendered with minimal instrumentation to maximize the feel of broody deliberation. These tracks take the form of the seasick “Wandelbar”, the trickling piano runs of the Eno-like “Still Life With Kannyu”, and the barely-there “Orschel”. It’s the kind of overcast place you’d expect to find Roedelius, and also a place that will be familiar to anyone who has heard Cole’s prior ambient work. The other type of mood has a little more meat on the bone, lending a sense of misery filling out and bubbling over. “HIQS” is all unsettling machine noise, resembling a creaky engine room dangerously sputtering to the end of its existence. “Pastoral” takes a less severe route, letting waves of serene sound simply overlap and fade away. Best of all is “Fehmarn F/O,” which is driven by piercing synth lines that sound like their maker is barely in control of the machinery, adding a welcome dose of bedlam that touches on the kind of anarchy Add N to (X) liked to set in motion.
It’s hard to escape the feeling that this is a very self-referential album for Roedelius to make, especially as one of its tracks (“Selbstportrait-Reich”) partially takes its name from a series of solo albums he has put out over the years. Naturally, it’s one of the best pieces on here, layering Moog twists over a minimalist backing that never really goes anywhere and never really needs to. It’s particularly impressive that Cole can work so effectively in such an area, especially when his best work (“Perfect Skin”, “Rattlesnakes”, “Lost Weekend”– his greatest hits, essentially) is so in thrall to coupling classic, sweeping pop moves with pithy wordplay. It leaves Selected Studies in an odd place, one that doesn’t feel like any kind of stretch for one of its participants, but is quite the opposite for the other. Still, that sense of tension doesn’t transpire in the recordings, which ultimately fall a little too far inside Roedelius’s comfort zone to be truly remarkable. But he again shows a mastery over that space, where even the smaller steps in his journey end up pointing in the right direction despite not always taking the most logical turns.
Publication date: 01/03/13