First published at The Line of Best Fit.
If the words “German electronica” conjure images of austere-looking men standing motionless behind synths in mono-coloured suits, or the “nihilist” baddies in The Big Lebowski, To Rococo Rot might help you abandon the stereotype. Stefan Schneider and brothers Robert and Ronald Lippok are a Berlin-based electronica and post-rock trio who have been blending digital and acoustic elements for almost 15 years. ‘Speculation’, their sixth full-length, is their warmest, most human album yet. Made in a secluded rural area of southern Germany with a simple studio set-up that enabled recording ”like a band playing a live show”, the bucolic surroundings and more freeform dynamic are evident in the results.
The band’s MySpace featues some interesting notes: “A record that celebrates uncertainty” may be a bit strong claim for an album which pleasures rather than challenges the ear, but I can see what they mean. The tracks are largely brief, and are cyclic rather than linear - simmering instead of evolving, “in a midpoint between propulsion and letting go”. They often fizzle out much the way they began, fittingly for band whose moniker is itself a palindrome (i.e., its reads the same forwards as backwards).
Some tracks - like the understated opener ’Away’, with its rumbling post-punk bass loop augmented by jazzy flutters of high end guitar - have an air of live improvisation about them. There is a delicate hesitancy to this live instrumentation which makes a nice counterpoint to the metronomic insistence of the beats. The jazziness deepens with the looser percussion of ‘Seele’, punctuated by deep piano chords and lush atmospherics, and ‘Horses’ which ripples under the auspices of some teasingly funky bass. The latter bleeds nicely into the sunlit chimes of ‘Forwardness’, which certainly wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Four Tet’s latest.
Elsewhere, there is a hint of Andrew Wetherall (Two Lone Swordsmen or even Sabres of Paradise) on the cinematic ‘Place It’, while there’s a hint of motorik – naturally – on the funkier climbs of ’Working Against Time’. While sonically experimental, ‘Speculation’ is not willfully cerebral or esoteric like the – now admittedly less fashionable – glitch end of IDM. Don’t be intimidated by the German electronica tag, this is immediate stuff – few tracks outstay their welcome except for the cavernous ambient of closer ‘Friday’, which perculates in the background for 11-odd minutes. ‘Speculation’ might please fans of more expansive but easy-on-the-ear recent albums by Field and Four Tet, but it may not reward the deeper listening encouraged by those albums.