It’s remarkable to think (for us Americans, anyway) that the German post-punk/metal-cum-electronica/indie-rock hybrid known as the Notwist has been around for nearly twenty years. But this incredulity may simply be because we stateside folk didn’t really catch wind of the Bavarian band until roughly thirteen years into its illustrious career.
The first four albums — 1991’s The Notwist, 1992’s Nook, 1995’s 12, and 1998’s Shrink — made waves in Europe, it wasn’t until 2002’s critically lauded Neon Golden that the Notwist reached a larger North American audience. Brothers Markus and Michael Acher, Andi Haberl, and Console didn’t release an album as Notwist between Neon Golden and The Devil, You, + Me, but that’s not to say they haven’t been busy: They’ve been in a multitude of side projects, most notably Ms. John Soda, Tied and Tickled Trio, and 13 and God.
Structurally, The Devil, You + Me picks up where Neon Golden left off, only this time the arrangements are sparser, more densely packed, and Markus Acher’s fey vocals lend an apathetic feel to the high-emotion nuances brewing beneath his lowly acoustic guitar, creating a sense of conflict throughout the album. Similarly, “Gloomy Planets” and the title track initially come off as lovely acoustic ditties until the dense production and layers of sound begin to unsettlingly bubble up from below.
With virtually no upbeat tracks — with the possible exception of “Boneless” — The Devil, You + Me may come across to some as gloomy. But what this offering lacks in mirth, it more than makes up for in transcendence and dissonance. With Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra in tow, tracks like “Where in the World” and the scathing “Hands on Us” incorporate some of the best use of strings in chamber pop since Owen Pallett’s He Poos Clouds.
“Alphabet” plays much like an Antonin Artaud poem reads, urging you to sit uncomfortably in your seat and await a resolve that never happens. With a nervous tapping sound opening the track, Acher repeatedly sings, “I won’t sing you algebra, I won’t sing anything” over a cacophony of gulping noises, slices of electric guitar, and a shoddy drum-kit in the background.
It seems appropriate, then, that the album ends with the understated “Gone, Gone, Gone,” the only track here with no pretense. As it stands, it is simply a lovely, two-minute acoustic promise to family and loved ones that “I will never let you go.” Following the ten prior tracks, all packed with an equal wallop of distress and beauty, it’s an oddly unruffled end to such a wonderfully moody album.