This is a very intimidating review to write. So, like a pansy, I have been stalling and stalling on writing this beginning paragraph. So I end up with this half-assed piece of a meta-review. But you have to understand, my reader, Kraftwerk is everything as far as modern music goes. Perhaps only they and the Velvet Underground have had such a profound effect on the state of music today. Life VU, they stretched the boundaries of what could be considered pop music. They were the first fully electronic group to be treated as a legitimate band. On top of breaking ground with electric instruments and experimentation, the music they’ve made is actually good, by almost anyone’s standards. Couple that with the far-reaching influence they still hold today and I cannot help but cower as a reviewer in the shadow of the mighty monolith Kraftwerk has become.
Then I look at the band; four awkward former computer programmers from Germany. Despite their attempts to disguise the fact, Kraftwerk is still helmed by four human beings. They just happened to have a preternatural knack for what can be done with electronic, and now digital, music, and an ear for melody to boot. It seems with many such bands, Kraftwerk was in the right place at the right time with the right sound. And damn it, it makes me jealous. Here the world sits, several decades after the formation of Kraftwerk, and they still hold sway over it. Good lord, I have to stop using hyperbole. But it seems Kraftwerk is one of the few bands to deserve it.
I’m not even going to get into the argument of “electronic music isn’t music” so many people have lobbed at me over the years. In my mind, Kraftwerk’s discography makes this a moot point. This live album, Minimum-Maximum, captures that essence of the band’s history on two disks. One could almost consider it a greatest hits, but it not only documents the band’s past, but how they have changed. Classics like “Autobahn” remain the same in essence, but show the evolution of not only the group but of the equipment they use. For Kraftwerk, the instruments are an important part of the music itself. With the advances of digital technology, Kraftwerk is now able to produce a live show with the audio quality of a studio recording. This is evident in the album, as the only thing hinting at this being a live recording is the occasional burst of noise from the crowd (which the band could certainly have fixed had they wanted to). The music is crisp and perfectly synchronized.
In an almost ironic way, the music Kraftwerk has spawned is now reflected back again in the band. It is like some strange space-time bending funhouse mirror, as hints of various new electronic sub-genres are reappearing in the very thing that spawned them. For instance, the version of “Metal on Metal” recorded here could easily be imagined playing in the waning hours of a rave (Kraftwerk would never pound hard enough to fuel the beginning of one). And “The Robots” seems akin to the pop industrial that NIN has been producing lately (sorry Mr. Reznor for calling you pop). For me, that reflection coupled with the insane crowd reaction captured at the beginnings and endings of songs are enough to show how much of an influence Kraftwerk has had. After all, this crowd is screaming over the sight of four aging German men standing at consoles. But what amazing men they are.
Hatchie – Keepsake
Keepsake, the debut album by Brisbane dream pop artist Hatchie is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars
Brisbane indie-pop artist Hatchie (known to her friends and family as Harriette Pilbeam) is in the envious position of being a pop artist unspoiled by the many trappings of what it is to be a modern pop artist. Unlike some of her contemporaries who craft music by committee or with Sheeran-like self-importance, Hatchie is as of now, unsullied by the pressures of the cookie-cutter pop machine. Hatchie’s debut full length is a showcase for a talent who is supremely confident and composed in her abilities, and Keepsake is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars. The album is also a wonderful throwback to pop’s dreamy 60s influences that shuffle in and out of this delirium while working alongside distinctly more current musical touches.
There is the lush dream pop sounds of “Without a Blush”, taking cues from the best of what Stars and Goldfrapp conjure but heaping a tonne of Pilbeam’s charisma on it. Like her vocals, “Without a Blush” has this elegance that has the ability to elevate songs from being beautiful to grand. It is the kind of vocal elegance that really shines through on songs like the skittering, beat-driven “Obsessed” and the alternative, guitar-fuelled (yay!) “When I Get Out”. Indie/electronic closer “Keep” is a wonderful end to proceedings.
However, the great strength of Keepsake is not just its composure in how all the songs have been put together. It is also this genuine, natural-sounding quality that permeates the album- nothing overly written, overly produced or put together by research groups or music analysts. It just sounds like talent. We can argue that much of pop music is constructed to appease the moment- designed to grab as much attention as possible in an A.D.D. world. And sure, that can be said about almost any kind of music, but the resulting aural tone of Keepsake is anything but transient or transparent.
The best way to combat tepid chart-topping music is to write better pop songs. Songs like “Her Own Heart” and the disco-toned “Stay” are examples of pop music that come across as timeless. We are moved by the songs found on Keepsake when we listen to them today. And I suspect that in 10 years time, or in 20, we will most likely feel the same. It is rare to find the sort of ageless beauty you find on Keepsake.