I’m not sure if it’s fair to call Lali Puna a side project. Sure, they share Markus Acher from the Notwist, but they’ve long since established themselves as an independent act in their own right. I can’t help but feeling, however, that the two bands share more in common than just Acher, and sometimes the commonalities stick more than the differences, as is the case here. I guess life isn’t fair after all.
Our Inventions, the band’s fourth album in 11 years, arrives two years after the Notwist’s underrated effort The Devil, You + Me, and mostly sticks to that record’s disenchanted, faithless viewpoint, where God is a phantom and a pocket light. It’s all well and good, but being united in pessimism is not necessarily a ringing endorsement, and where the former matched creative production flare with morosely articulate lyricisms, the latter falls a little short. At points the music sits a little too comfortably in its faux-electronica suit. The combination of keyboards, vocals, and cheap, easy beats is a little obvious and at times grating. The half-sung vocals can seem a little underwhelming, and the aforementioned hopelessness can get a little overbearing.
But although it’s hard to match the arrival of spring with such downbeat music, this can be a rewarding experience for those who pay attention. Most admirably, it’s an album that slowly grows on the listener with a quiet confidence that’s found in a wonderfully liberating lack of ambition. There’s a lot to praise in music that’s comfortable in its own skin. “Come sit down,” Valerie Trebeljahr sings on opener “Rest Your Head,” and it’s an invitation worth considering — the rest of the album unfolds at a pace that might be best suited to bedtime. Elsewhere, the album sticks to this mould fairly consistently: “Nothing new,” as Trebeljahr informs us on “Everything Is Always.” The theme of stasis is effectively matched by the subtle percussion stabs and hypnotic keyboard lines. There’s a sense of uneasiness at work here, however, which becomes more explicit in tracks like “Hostile To Me,”a song that opens with the line, “Destroy this place.” Just what or whom we should be destroying is left to the imagination, but the juxtaposition of restlessness and regular ambient texturing is effective and powerful.
The album sticks very much to the template of ambient keyboard pop and an atmosphere of disappointment that past Lali Puna and Notwist albums traded in. That said, it’s effective in what it sets out to accomplish and has a silent ambition that is fairly admirable. Lali Puna may always be compared to the Notwist, but let’s be honest: A lot of bands dream of being mentioned in the same sentence.