Review: Paul Kalkbrenner - Guten Tag
These nights changed my life. Dividing points in the great long party I seem to have been lost in since early this millennium. The nights that turned into epics and stitched together my eras. Some nights I knew would be momentous going in; others sneaked up on me and had me swirling into the unknown before I knew what was even happening. These nights are sparklingly real in the rhythmic blur of my memory. These are always nights. Even if they turn into morning, or into several mornings, they are always imagined as nights. Each is a very distinct species from the next and yet they all share a common occurrence. At some point in the night, usually right after the climax had begun and was there to be enjoyed and strung out as long as possible before the piercing silence of dawn became overwhelming, I found myself overlooking the curious events around me, in my room, in my city, in my society. I look down from an ever-higher viewpoint, a terrace, a hilltop, a castle, a magic carpet, and I feel an icy realisation, before renewed warmth. I take this glow with me and add it to the glow gained on nights past. I put it in my glow pouch and I remember the moment forever.
All Paul Kalkbrenner's best tracks have a moment where this feeling is encapsulated far better than my stumbling prose ever could. This is what art is. There was Duchamp, then Warhol, then Exit Through the Gift Shop, then Gangnam Style. Sometime around 1984 we forgot how to create. Worse still, when the numbed brain happened across a true creation, it had forgotten to properly observe. To think. Our own shit mattered too much. Job. Bills. Wife. Girlfriend. Booze. Drugs. Horses. Stocks. Crises. Repeat. Every painting became the same - a mirror, taunting the victim. A song became a download, a remix, a Jäger Bomb, a fight, a blowjob. Sushi came pre-packaged and everybody came prematurely. Then came Paul Kalkbrenner.
Each track is a feeling. If that's all you have time or the speakers for, you can still enjoy this music. For me it is travelling. It is me discovering the artist in his hometown of Berlin. It is me eagerly telling my new Dutch friends about him...only to discover the hip bastards thought he was old news. It was listening to him soothe my cloudy stoned hangover at Schiphol Airport as I left mainland Europe. Kalkbrenner was an overnight train journey the length of Morocco. He was a cold and lonely ferry trip from Spain back to Africa. He was there at the club in Barcelona and he was there when I slipped on my headphones and left for the New World. He was waiting for me in Montréal this summer. He helped paint our apartment, he walks with me to the metro and the marché, and he is here now as the morning sun sparkles on the first snowfalls of the year. Kalkbrenner is a constant - a bus window, a hostel bed, a beach, a season. The same sounds, heard differently. His songs are like this too. They go on and on. Or they are very short. His albums are really just an ongoing series of loops. A bit like life. A-ha. Now we're getting somewhere. The more they change, the more they stay the same. Hey this loop is different to before! Or is it?
This time it's a new album keeping me from slumber. Guten Tag. How very apt. Kalkbrenner was growing up as the Berlin Wall was coming down, so by the time I ethered his latest records Berlin Calling and Icke Wieder to my iDevice two decades later, you could say that he has pretty much nailed the minimalist sound. However I am discovering with Guten Tag the true scope of the dude's genius. Minimalism is supposed to be the equal and opposite reaction to abstract expressionism. Initially at least, Kalkbrenner is the simple and calming antithesis of PSY's (his caps, not mine) Gangnam Style. It makes sense, it makes me happy, it is predictable and it repeats, like my heartbeat. But there is more to it than that.
A track begins and immediately it belongs in the space it fills. As if it was always playing and all you did was turn up the volume. It grows and matures, then begins to express itself. It jabs at you playfully. The acoustic highlights are like those stars in your eyes that jump around the edges of your vision, never quite real enough to comprehend. The multiple bass lines converge, the snare kicks in and it all threatens to turn into just another Ibiza dancehall orgy. The genius is that it doesn't. It makes you want the climax that never quite comes. But you have one anyway. Then the beat from the start of the song returns, like an old friend, and you feel wiser for it. Or was it the beat from the song before? Or a loop from an older album? You're never quite sure. And then the piano showers down upon you, so beautiful it's like Chris Martin making love to a rainbow.
Once a musician really nails a sound, new albums can be a hiding to nothing. Guten Tag is like buying the exact same brand of those really comfortable jeans you love, only to discover that they have been upgraded and now feature three new hidden pockets in the most convenient locations. It's like they should have been there all along. The music feels darker than before, but just when it threatens to suffocate…relief. Then the bass drops back in and you stay awake another hour. Kalkbrenner took me places he hadn't showed me before. It felt right. His music is like karma. Or déjà vu. Or returning from a trip. Or taking one. It is boring or it is exciting. It is what you make it, or what your stereo and neighbours will allow. It is that moment of realisation on the nights that change our lives. But most of all, it just is.