April 13, 2010
To Rococo Rot’s skill lies in making electronic-infused post-rock engaging where most other bands fiddling with sculpted synths and cyclic bass lines settle for crafting something tasteful. Berliners Stefan Schneider and Ronald and Robert Lippok often sound as balanced and precise as their reversible band name. But they know how to finesse electronic timbres and human melodies, neither over-intellectualizing nor over-sentimentalizing their songs. What makes Speculation so welcome is that it represents a tweak to their established M.O. nearly 15 years into their career.
Recording sessions for Speculation, some of which were held in the rural studio of Krautrock legends Faust, succeeded in capturing a more live sound and looser atmosphere. Previous tracks have always been well composed. New ones like “Working Against Time” add bright cosmic rhythms and a sense of immediacy to the mix, as if you can feel the air move in the room between the synths and guitars. That song in particular has a swagger to it; synths pulse against a persistent beat, as if in reference to the title. Credit Stefan Schneider’s bass playing with plenty of propulsion and muscle, especially the dark, skuzzy tone on “Away” or the bouncy middle section of “Seele”.
Hotel Morgen, the trio’s previous record, wasn’t nearly as energetic; momentum was sometimes slow to establish itself (and quick to fade) and the short closer, “Opak”, was an awkward send-off. Speculation sounds much tighter, confidently moving between tracks and themes. The digital tones the band has been playing with for years sound richer yet also lighter, supporting soaring cyclical melodies.
The growing sense of looseness culminates in the epic, nearly 11-minute jam “Friday”, which includes the mad organ playing of Faust’s Jochen Irmler fiddling away on a homemade instrument. It’s relatively unhinged for the group, yet they keep pace, enriching this particular freakout with bubbling cauldrons of noise, brusque tones and beats. It never quite boils over, as if the group’s cool, calm hand still has sway. The music of To Rococo Rot has always had an organic element; Speculation furthers that with a real sense of play and exploration.