Vertigo Days is more of the same from The Notwist, which should be taken as a compliment: the album offers a welcomingly updated take on the band’s classic sound.
For a band whose blend of processed instrumentation and glitchy production might scan as experimental, to the unfamiliar listener, The Notwist are actually surprisingly consistent. The German indietronica trio releases a new studio album every six or seven years, and for each, the band seems in more or less the same headspace in which they were last they checked in — namely, dispassionate melancholy over loops and sighs. The milieu shifts from album to album — see the neoclassical grandeur of Neon Golden, still their peak, or the art-rock of follow-up The Devil, You + Me — but the recipe and results are still, generally, the same. And as per, the Notwist’s new Vertigo Days is another thoughtful sampling of genres from an elder tastemaker perspective, cycling out the chilly balladry of 2014’s Close to the Glass for some krautrock and jazz. The results are among the most eclectic the Notwist have put to tape. Single “Where You Find Me” locates a typically pretty late-period Notwist song within an echo chamber of cascading vocals, while the live band-sound of “Exit Strategy to Myself” builds in urgency, until reaching a squall of white noise. Elsewhere, shorter snippets like “Ghost” and “*stars*” are curiosities in the best sense, and specifically benefit from the band’s decision to seamlessly transition between tracks on Vertigo Days — fitting, since “seamless” sounds have long been a cornerstone of the Notwist’s appeal.
This album also marks the first occasion of credited features on a Notwist album, and while their prevalence could be seen as just more evidence of the commonality of collaboration in the streaming era, the guests here loom large on their respective songs, serving to embellish the Notwist’s usual sonic and emotional range. On “Into the Ice Age,” clarinetist Angel Bat Dawid brings whimsy and a sense of clarity to the band’s doom and gloom, her instrument putting the song in proximity to one-time Notwist contemporary Radiohead’s Amnesiac standout “Life in a Glass House.” Some vocals from Juana Molina, on “Al Sur,” likewise leaven and liven that track, warming its pulsating groove and pushing it closer to Stereolab than Suicide. One imagines people will still consider all of this mere patch updates — and Vertigo Days is still the same old software the Notwist have used for the past 25 years. But that’s part of the appeal: This is indeed a contemporary adaptation of an existing sound, rather than a truly contemporary invention. The same components are there; the way they’re assembled is fresh. Ultimately, the features’ cosigns and genre interpretations serve as a reminder, and a persuasive one, of why we liked the Notwist in the first place.
Published as part of Album Roundup — January 2021 | Part 1.