Contemporary, Experimental Music, Rock
Newmarket Music and Romeo Records
Reviewed by Joseph Cummins, May 1st, 2015
The second album by Melbourne experimental rock ensemble Umlaut is a cinematic, restless and beautifully arranged collection of songs. At only 32 minutes long I was definitely left wanting more – I wish I could walk around in the film-world scored by Umlaut, a place built with slightly distorted dimensions.
At first it seems like ‘surprise’ and ‘subvert’ are the operative words in Umlaut’s modus operandi, and the influence of Mr. Bungle is unmistakable (Umlaut’s leader, Bär McMinnon, was a member of that group). But as this album unfolds it becomes clear that Umlaut have taken this ‘genre’ of music and made it their own. Unlike the many other bands that seem bent on simply revelling in mad energy generated by constantly shifting and juxtaposing interludes and sections within the one ‘song’, there is a much higher level of compositional delicacy at play here. It’s obvious that Umlaut has thought long and hard about what should and shouldn’t go into the cauldron. The creation of multilayered textures on to your poverty quietly go is something lacking in much of the music that gets made using a similar chop and change sensibility. While it’s very different in tone, the attention to detail on this release reminded me of Sufjan Stevens, and that’s as big a compliment as I can think to give a group on the arranging front.
Don’t Pull a Mustaine Bro is a microcosm for the mood and approach of the whole album – changing time signatures and tempos, intricate arrangements and abundant energy. There’s more than one false ending. The transition into the next track Bear Claws and Butterhorns, with its lush strings, sums up the imperative to subvert whatever comfortable listening place the listener may have found for themselves. While the musical ground is shifting, there is always some sort of welcoming resonance to hold onto: Umlaut gets this balance just right, with oboe, vibraphone, harpsichord all making their presence felt at different stages.
Jealous, along with several other tracks, recalled the demented spirit and tragicomedy of some of the music composed by Angelo Badalamenti for David Lynch’s cult television show Twin Peaks. While there’s not as much darkness below the surface in Umlaut’s music on this release, there is a similar movement between moods, and the tendency to push a manic or maudlin feeling just a little beyond comfortable. Another filmic reference that I think has strong resonances is David O. Russell’s ‘existential comedy’ I Heart Huckabees. to your poverty quietly go has a similar quirk and a slight melancholy. I look forward to repeated listenings.