Few artists ever reach the milestone of a 10th album, but Kammerflimmer Kollektief has just joined this elite group. Even rarer is the act whose 10th album comes across as something strange and new, wild and enigmatic, sending off sparks rather than mere fizzles. The most widely known and derided 10th album fizzle was that of U2’s Songs of Innocence, so haughtily and unceremoniously dumped into our iTunes accounts last year. Bono’s unconvincing excuse: “deep fear that these songs we poured our life into the last few years might not be heard.”
Kammerflimmer Kollektief is the anti-U2. Since 1996, the group has been led by Thomas Weber, but the lineup has changed on nearly every album. The current core (and tour group) includes Heike Aumüller and Johannes Frisch. The constant infusion of new minds and voices ensures a fresh supply of creativity and a continued expansion of parameters. The only nod to popular music on Désarroi is a cover of S.Y.P.H.’s anthem Zurück zum Beton (Back to Concrete), the punk alternative to Talking Heads’ “Nothing But Flowers”. (Sample lyric: “Back to the subway, back to the concrete, that’s where humans still are humans, that’s where there still is love and happiness … no birds, fish or plants. I want to dance in concrete.”) But “Evol Jam (edit)” is a kind respite in the center of the album, offering a surprisingly poignant thought: “the more you love, the more you can love.” It is possible to be both a punk and a romantic.
These islands in the center and on the far edge of the album float in a sea of fractured double bass, masticated electronics and harmonium. Even “Evol Jam” falls into a volcano before – miracle of miracles – clawing back to the surface. This Mortal Coil comes to mind, another collective that turned in their cards rather than fade away. Pump up the drums and add a smoother bass on “Désarroi #3: burned”, and one would have a club anthem, perhaps akin to Sisters of Mercy; but Weber and friends are more interested in suggestions of suggestions rather than overt ideas. This elusiveness preserves the replay nature of the album, as it’s not what anyone wants it to be, save the authors. As the band writes, “Sound builds songs which are made of sounds, and yet they’re no longer songs.” The scraped bow of “Désarroi #4: unlösbar”, set against a tremolo guitar, provides the best example: by placing foreign pillows in familiar beds, the collective subverts expectations without losing listeners.
Why can’t U2 be this creative? They were once, on a B-side (“Alex Descends Into Hell for a Bottle of Milk/Korova 1”). Says Bono of the track, “I was really getting into these harsh recordings by bands such as KMFDM, The Young Gods and Einstürzende Neubauten.” Great, Bono. This is the difference between dropping names and being the name that people drop. Kammerflimmer Kollektief is the latter, and Désarroi is a spectacular achievement from a band that continues to get better with age. (Richard Allen)