Wiesbaden. Not the most exciting place on earth. Not today, at least. Fancy, though. And rich. The German town used to be very famous for its hot springs, and for being a bathing and gambling place. It was once called Nice of the North. Fyodor Dostoyevsky gambled for the first time at the tables in Wiesbaden, and got promptly addicted. He then wrote The Gambler (1867) to pay off his gambling debts. The town’s splendid past is still visible in its architecture, and some of the dubiousness of a gambling place might also linger around. Today, life in Wiesbaden is partly marked by the presence of an US Air Force Base, and some twenty thousand US citizens that go with it. The base is long-standing, it has been there since 1945, and its personnel took part in the Berlin airlift, bringing food and all kinds of necessities to the beleaguered city of West-Berlin. Why am I telling you all of this? Because the American presence in town might account for the American influence in Radare’s sound, as well as for the German-English amalgam of an album title. Or it might not, who knows. I’m just speculating, but I imagine there are proportionally more clubs in Wiesbaden where you can hear Jazz and Western music, than in other places in Germany. So, while Wiesbaden might appear like a quiet, medium-sized, and a little bit boring German city, there is quite some history and drama cooking underneath the rather tranquil surface. And the same thing can be said for the music of the band Radare. (See? I got there in the end.)
Der Endless Dream, Radare’s most recent album, is the soundtrack to a movie. The interesting thing here being, that the movie does not exist. It will play exclusively in your head while you listen to the music. German actually has a word for that phenomenon, it’s called ‘Kopfkino’, and it is one of those peculiar German words (compound nouns, mostly) for which there is no English 1:1 equivalent. The listeners get a few hints regarding the movie’s subject from the album cover and the song titles, but the details of the plot are entirely up to them. Der Endless Dream, says the press info, “explores the confusion of adolescent desires.” The cover photo, in accordance with that, depicts a rather harmless though very sombre looking youth. However, if you look closer, there is some mystery and drama in the blandness. The cover photograph looks similar to those you see of missing children. And the youth’s eyes have different colours, one is blue, the other one brown, adding a little bit of freakishness to the story.
Mystery, drama, and some freakishness; which director does this remind you of? If you’re thinking David Lynch, you’re spot on. And if you like Twin Peaks music, you’ll probably like Der Endless Dream as well. The associations I had while listening to the album were in any case more to directors than to bands. Apart from David Lynch, I was reminded of Jim Jarmusch and Wim Wenders. But the Kopfkino I had playing in my mind was a mixture between the movie Boyhood and the German mystery show Dark.
The album’s music is entirely instrumental and at times minimalistic. Apart from guitars, bass, and drums, there is the sound of a saxophone frequently to be heard, also that of a clarinet. The drums are often brushed, and the tempo is slow. Overall, the album sounds jazzy, often experimental, with all kinds of synth sounds added to the mix.
Loup de mer (French for sea bass, and probably a reference to a person from Wiesbaden) starts out with mysterious-sounding synth tunes to which first drums and then guitars are added, later also sax. Right from the beginning, the guitar has a distorted, Western-music sound.
Stalked, the second track, gets the story going with tensions rising. High-pitched ringing or tolling introduces an experimental soundscape which builds up constantly in the course of the track. You can literally hear the stalker getting closer. This goes almost seamlessly, and strangely, over into Eternal Love, representing a very adolescent belief indeed. The track is therefore appropriately soapy-sounding in the beginning.
The title piece Der Endless Dream marks the centre of the album and probably that of the story. Lasting only two and a half minutes, it is rather short and also slightly different in character from the tracks preceding it. Starting out with a single instrument, the clarinet, it sounds more like music you would here in a play than in a movie; it is more unrealistic and dreamlike. The mood is hesitant, and a little a bit depressing.
Who put the Fear in You brings to mind weird, old-school, scary movies. Room begins with the bass, very low, and quiet, like a heartbeat. Extended use of synth gives it an electronic touch towards the end. The last track Second Son and its brushed drums had me finally think of another band, namely Portishead.
To summarize: I found Der Endless Dream an unusual but very enjoyable listen. I liked how the album manages to have you play a movie in your head. The most interesting exercise, I suppose, would be to compare the kopfkinos of various listeners. Will they have similar plots and scenes, or completely different ones?
Recommended, even if only for a change. It never hurts to widen your musical horizons.