(Field Hymns, 2014)
If we’re gonna get all World War II on each other, let’s just say that the German Army was trounced – trounced – in North Africa after the United States entered the war in 1941. OK, maybe “trounced” isn’t the best word, but the Germans, overall, were roundly defeated. Their ally, the fascist government in Italy, embarrassed themselves in North Africa, leading to their downfall. If I were the German Army, or even the “German Army” – uh, OK, cut the quotes, the band’s called German Army, doesn’t need them – I’d be pretty reluctant to return to that scene. But this German Army, the California synth-post-wave-punk duo from California, has no qualms about showing their faces in Algeria again – in particular Tassili N’Ajjer National Park, from which the name Tassili Plateau was taken – presumably to take in some of the prehistoric cave art on display there. Maybe they’re on vacation this time.
Don’t mistake any of this historical perspective for some sort of natural approach to composition – neither is German Army quite so German German as a band like Rammstein, nor do they evoke any sense of communion with the natural world, at least not a communion that would quickly bring to mind the cave paintings of our ancestors or magnificent rock formations. And I don’t think that really matters. I’m tossing all this information and speculation out there like red herrings, dithering down rabbit holes and getting lost in pockets of trivia.
What we’ve really got here is a couple of guys who know their way around synthesizers and programming. They’ve also clearly studied the 1970s and 1980s synth masters for spiritual guidance on mood and tone – they’ve nailed it with their dark-but-not-too-dark minimalism, and even lightened up the joint on standouts like the guitar-and-elephant-trumpet-driven “Mumbai,” the Tubeway Army homage “Vermin,” or downright pretty closer “Goa.” German Army certainly can remain in the shadows if they so choose, mining deep, cavernous territory on the percussion-heavy “Nepalese,” and they complement these tracks with creepazoid vocal numbers like “Antiseptic,” “Crooning Ignorance,” and the awesomely – but perhaps obviously, given the territory – titled “Sexual Cycle of Human Norms.”
Truth is, German Army, the band, does draw bits of inspiration from other cultures, such as on “Mumbai,” “Indian Beast,” “Nepalese,” and “Goa,” perhaps in a colonial sense. “Mumbai” is a favorite of mine, as those aforementioned “elephant trumpets” – they sound like elephants, but are most likely simply synth patches – resolve their notes in an amazingly satisfying way, and do so over beautiful delayed guitar passages. There isn’t a Suicide track quite like this one! “Goa” is equally pleasing and another favorite, as this time 1960s-style strings hover over guitars in an almost lounge-type setting, but the exotica never deviates into schmaltz, and we’re left with one of the most rewarding minutes and a half I’ve heard in a while.
The thing about Tassili Plateau is its brevity – it’s in and out in scant 22 minutes or so. But it packs so much into its short runtime that it still leaves you with a lot to chew on. It’s transportative to faraway lands, and hearkens back to strange days passed where Eastern and Western cultures came together under the auspices of mystery and romance. I’m talking post-WWII here. It also calls attention to the period immediately following the fall of idea of colonization, where Western urbanity’s dark and twisted night scenes infiltrated the streets of all the global cities. Maybe colonization’s not dead after all – maybe we’re all colonizing each other in some sort of worldwide amalgamation. Whatever. This is about German Army, and they have 22 minutes of righteous cassette to get you through the transition. You’ll be fine.
RIYL: Cabaret Voltaire, Ensemble Economique, Psychic TV, Dylan Ettinger