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Robert Schroeder: "Taste It"; "30 Years After"

img  Tobias

There are two kinds of comebacks. The first type is inspired by greed, nostalgia or the desire to taste the fanciful figment of fame and fantasy just one more time. Over the past fifty years, it has proven particularly popular with aging rockers, swooning crooners and flocks of one-time-wonders happy to put their already questionable status on the line with ill-prepared stage appearances or as part of unworthy casting shows and sensationalist jungle camps. The second kind usually occurs far away from the limelight. It is driven by a reawakened sense of purpose on the part of the artist, by a sensation of once again having something meaningful to convey. Unlike their short-lived counterparts, these comebacks are inherently open-ended, as though, as a fan, you'd merely been put on hold for a decade or two. Naturally, however, no composer will pick up his discography just where he left it. Unlike the process of seamless transitions and subtle transformations of long, uninterrupted careers, there must, almost by default, be a rupture. It remains anyone's guess where things would have gone without the years spent in retreat. And only time will tell, whether a former audience will accept this second coming as a continuation of the work or, rather, as an unasked-for appendix instead.

There can be no doubt that Robert Schroeder's return in 2004 can be filed into the second category. His comeback-album „Brainchips“ was anything but a calculated rehash of his past achievements. Quite on the contrary, his new playful and poignant style was sure to confound rather than confirm his status as a leader of the third wave of electronic musicians. Still today, it sounds like a daring move and a rainbow-coloured compendium of ten years spent away from the public ear. Most of all, it constituted a striking contrast with „Hamaja“, „Mindwalk“ and „Everdreams“, the triptych of albums he released in the early 90s and which had come to herald a radical change in direction, marked by open, breathing textures, intense musical impressionism and a sparse timbral palette. It was a new kind of space music, deep and digital, epic and emphatic, minimal and metaphorical alike.

Despite feeling like a demonstrative departure from the old ways, these records also represented a pinnacle of everything his music had stood for over the years: Floating structures, dreamy rhythmic pulsation, mysterious harmonic headlights and, above all, a euphoric and immediately recognisable melodicism. In comparison, the 21st century update of his style owed more to the grooves and loops of downbeat and consciously defied the vintage analogue equipment used for classics like „Paradise“, „Brain Voyager“ and his dark tour-de-force „Timewaves“. Follow-up „SphereWare“ already discretely backtracked on these aesthetics by considerably raising average track-duration and, at times, hinting at his 80s-output. But it is only with „Taste It“, his by now 17th solo album, that the process has arrived at its logical and natural conclusion.

Even though Schroeder has refrained from listing the equipment used on these nine tracks, „Taste It“ clearly smacks of a combination of analogue gear and digital technology, of a newly found concision in terms of arrangements and the cosmic connotations of his early years. Motives come welling up from spacey drift, gently pierce the track's fabric for a few seconds, then lapse back into the groove again. The opening title track, with its reduced percussion patterns, hazy atmospherics and ultra-minimal thematic development, is a manifesto of sorts in this respect and Schroeder keeps it simmering with great care and utmost sensitivity for almost ten minutes. The first seconds of „Sweets of Paradise“, meanwhile, suggest a classic sequencer-tune, before chilly polyshuffles and swelling synth-pads kick in, igniting a firework of vocoded messages and discreet motives.

Elsewhere, there are hidden allusions to his phenomenally successful Double Fantasy project and on the feyly dancing „Capricorn“ references from the worlds of Drum n Bass, Rave culture and psychedelics merge into a  kaleidoscopically rotating vision. Like a Vinyl record, the album is split into two clearly distinct halves, with the second one offering both more varied and dreamy material. „Time Cruiser“ and „Fata Morgana“ are sweetly-surreal efforts between Jazz and Ambient, „Reminded of Paradise“ makes use of hypnotic choir thrusts and electro-metrics, while „Dreamchecker“ is the most straightforward piece of music here, a streamlined, almost danceable work built on powerfully resonating strings and deformed sci-fi sound effects. Even though this colourful finale opens up the album stylistically, as a whole „Taste It“ has turned out far more cohesive than its two predecessors. Rhythms and textures are interlocking in an organic fashion, creating a tight and yet weightless forward propulsion without ever catering to the mere physical excitement of the clubs.

This collection would easily have sufficed to celebrate Schroeder's third decade as a recording artist. And yet, to commemorate the occasion even more, he decided to follow it up straight away with another full-length filled to the brim with allusions to past achievements. On the first track of „30 Years After“, Schroeder personally welcomes the audience over a backing track of his 1979-debut, „Harmonic Ascendant“, for example, while „A new Message“ name-checks his possibly most famous composition ever: „The Message“ off aforementioned „Timewaves“. But other than that, he continues down the road of „Taste It“, further stripping the music of any unnecessary adornments. Which doesn't prevent things from getting eclectic after all: Jazzy Guitar licks wrap themselves around a samples taken from cult-movie „Be Cool“, massive bass-lines are tangled up with dense, shimmering drones and insistent Sequencer-lines are catapulting listeners far beyond the perimeters of the milky way. There is even time for quarter-of-an-hour excursions into a galaxy of iridescent sounds and lazily shifting rhythmic patterns, which softly discharge into a timeless soundscape of forlorn echoes.

The obvious focal point of „30 Years After“, though, is „A New Message“. Infused with an unabashedly romantic pop-appeal and a stoic patience, the piece works with the same handful of elements for more than eleven minutes, continually building up to temporary climaxes and foolingly cooling down to momentary troughs, discreetly varying its motives and keeping its momentum intact for the entire ride. Majestic Mellotron-choirs are tucked away in the back, a robotic rim shot is propelling the piece forward and the music settles somewhere between this century and the last one.

What may still be missing from the Robert-Schroeder-discography in the new millennium is a full-length which unifies his increasingly more precise ideas under the umbrella of a singular sonic concept. But as far as integrity and inventiveness go, his comeback has already been rewarding enough as it is. There's every chance that his audience will also come to see his return as an unexpected but ultimately refreshing continuation of a career which had seemed all but ended at one point.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Robert Schroeder
Homepage: Robert Schroeder at MySpace
Homepage: Spheric Music

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