STAFF PICK: Whiteout Conditions by The New Pornographers
The teeth-clenchingly Anglophonic term “Krautrock” was coined at some amorphous point in the early 1970s, purportedly by the now defunct Melody Maker. It’s often used as an umbrella term for the Kosmische Musik that emerged from West Germany, and particularly the industrial city of Dusseldorf in the years following the tumultuous student protests of 1968.
Inspired by minimalism, improvisational jazz and the avant-garde, bands such as Popol Vuh, Amon Düül II, and – of course – Kraftwerk, emerged into a stratified society wracked by brutal acts of revolutionary terrorism, income inequality and police brutality. The resulting music was a thrilling reaction against the old guard; a strange, frenetic and otherworldly destroying of the old and a birthing of the new, it mirrored the mid-century trauma and labour pains of the two modern Germanies. From the wide eyed synth-pop of the New Romantics to the crunching braindance of Aphex Twin, the fingerprints of the Krautrock bands have left an indelible mark across the landscape of modern music.
In the lead up to the release of their seventh record Whiteout Conditions the de-facto leader and spokesperson of The New Pornographers, Allan Carl “A.C.” Newman, has spoken of finding “A fifth dimension of Krautrock” - and this is immediately apparent from opening track Play Money, which aside from the robotic close to it’s chorus, features a taut, clattering drum line that strongly evokes the motorik groove of NEU!.
These influences are tightly woven throughout the record and are illustrated best by the propulsive throb of title track and album standout Whiteout Conditions. Drenched in dread, the lyrics bring to mind the often sluggish and fruitlessly medicated slog against the anxieties of depression, from the highs of “Flying and feeling the ceiling” to the defeated resignation of “You crumbled/You doubled your dosage”
This isn't to say that Whiteout Conditions is an unhappy record. We’ve Been Here Before is sublimely cosmic, hinting at the explosion to come but never quite boiling over, remaining instead at shimmering simmer while Darling Shade is an effervescently arpeggiated cousin of Dancehall Domine from 2014’s Brill Bruisers. Indeed the bright clean synth sounds of that album are expanded and taken to a logical evolutionary point bursting skyward in a poppy froth from the very seams of Whiteout Conditions. It’s impressive that the band have managed to expertly stride the line between charging headlong into new territories while maintaining the auteurship that has marked their work since their 2000 debut, Mass Romantic.
Doubtless many fans will be howling at the moon, skinny fists tightly clenched to their sides at the notable absence of founding member and Destroyer frontman Dan Bejar. Whilst previous Bejar highlights, such as War on the East Coast or Jackie are undeniably brilliant, Bejar’s manic and scattergun approach to pop songwriting would here be tonally detrimental to what is the most cohesive record in the band’s discography. Whiteout Conditions is an album that feels less like the jammed out soundings of a collective of vibrantly talented musicians and more like the work of a band enjoying a renewed focus orbiting around a shared centre.
Stream Whiteout Conditions below: