I first became aware of Berlin’s Apparat (Sascha Ring to his parents) through the excellent 2006 collaboration with fellow Berliner and legendary DJ/musician/label maven Ellen Allien (download “Way Out” and “Leave Me Alone”). Listening to it now, I understand far better where the brutally beautiful electro of Ellen stops and the warm, more organic-sounding Apparat starts. Ring’s latest work as Apparat, The Devil’s Hands, is the warmest and most personal electronic album you’re likely to hear all year.
The Devil’s Hands takes as a point of departure the gorgeous backing vocals of Sigur Rós and (gulp) the warm, inviting electronica of Postal Service rather than the cold despair of Thom Yorke’s solo work (who is a famous admirer of Ring’s work) or the rigid time structures of Ellen Allien’s oeuvre. Sounds build upon sounds – often found sounds, or improvised instruments –
building layer upon layer, sometimes to great effect.
The opening track is a wonderful introduction to what’s inside, and as “Sweet Unrest” unfolds, you get the feeling this isn’t your typical electro album (and it’s nothing like the famous DC band namesake). The next track, “Song of Los” is a warm, night-time pop song, with Ring’s inviting voice repeating, “losing our voices for that day,” over pulsating electronica reminiscent of the best ambient tracks on the Postal Service album. It builds and builds without ever releasing, and sets the stall out for the album. Your reaction to it will tell you whether you’re going to enjoy this album as a beautiful, personal journey through Ring’s life and loves, or a mawkish vanity project.
I love Los, and it inevitably merits a Mogwai remix (you can download it from a number of blogs), with the ‘gwai amping up the ambient noise, adding some subtle chanting and guitar, as well as the expectation of an explosion, without ever delivering. Ear candy. I similarly enjoy the following track, “Black Water.” It sounds like an Ibiza chill-out remix of Takk-era Sigur Rós. Quite winning.
The album’s quality sags a bit in the middle, with the shock of the beauty of the first three tracks receding and the emotional, confessional nature of the songs taking over from the inventiveness and fresh sounds of the opening trio. Fortunately, the final three tracks save it from being a disappointment, with the tubular bells/Euphoria-era Insides opening of “Ash-Black Veil” waking me from my reverie. It’s a beautiful, moving song, with the ambient sounds mixing perfectly with the strings and the odd, found-sounds percussion and Ring’s most Yorke-sounding vocals to extraordinary effect.
“A Bang in the Void” continues the dream-like feeling, with a horn cutting through the building noise. The album ends with “Your House Is My World,” with Ring giving his most stylized vocal delivery to haunting effect over a looped guitar and piano before an icy keyboard finishes the track perfectly.
In all, a pleasing album, and one which I would greatly like to see in live performance. I feel that some of the middle songs, with their mid-tempo, rather staid natures would benefit from a full band performance.