A new Nový Svět release is my ultimate musical booty call: I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but the second I know it’s in the offing, I will move mountains on a moment’s notice to get it. Even if that encounter consists of nothing more than a teasing, almost unbearably short span of minutes that serves no purpose other than to remind me of how they do things to me that no one else does, I consider any time in their company to be well spent.
Their mix of “folk, experimental and haunting neo-surrealism” has for years been as unique as it is addictive, and though there are some artists whose style does intersect with theirs (Ô Paradis, Mushroom’s Patience, and the sadly dormant Ait!), no one has emerged to rival the mix of heartbreak and humour (a combination normally reserved for cinema or literature) that they have brought to releases for nearly two decades.
One of the few artists to have emerged as potential successors to the Nový Svět throne is the mysterious American outfit German Army, whose playfulness recalls both Nový Svět and the Residents; it offers the unexpected and borderline kitschy without making it feel that those elements are included as a mere gag. For both artists, their effervescence is more than musical coquetry, so what could be a more pleasurable thing than hearing a split 7” release from these two emerita of genre-defying sound?
Nový Svět dazzle as they always seem to, with a single track in ‘Oneofakind’. These two could spin farts and candy floss into musical gold, so it’s little wonder that they can accomplish something magical with some catchy, quirky loops and a vocal. In fact, much of Nový Svět’s charm lies in the vocals of Jürgen Weber, who sounds perpetually like he’s seen everything that the world has to offer and is simply enlightening us through his own cryptic stories. This is one of the very few examples where Jürgen does English, but it seems that he’s able to sound as sage in my mother tongue as he does in all the others he’s adopted throughout the band’s career.
Germany Army offer up three tracks for their side of the release: ‘Bondage Commune’, ‘Crooning Ignorance’, and ‘Travelers’, and right away this should serve as a red flag. The greatest flaw of German Army’s releases to date is that their tracks are good but underdeveloped, serving more as rough sketches of what could have been than as something that will warrant repeated listens. They are certainly capable of producing strong individual tracks, but too much sounds like promising filler, and that problem is on full display here.
‘Crooning Ignorance’, in particular, suffers because it seems at times ready to step into the part of an offbeat pop song. Its sound is a noticeable update on that of Nový Svět, influenced more by the resurgence of interest in early ’80s electro sounds and obscure alternative than by folk traditions. There’s something reminiscent of Wire in its melodies, but it doesn’t share their capacity for succinctness.
For my personal tastes, ‘Travelers’ is more frustrating because it’s even more promising: it has some of the gritty darkness of certain Clair Obscur songs and the icy chill of early Chris and Cosey, but there just isn’t the physical room to accommodate more than a hint of it on the vinyl.
This split is enjoyable, but it’s summed up by the title of the Nový Svět track: they have always been, and still remain, one of a kind. German Army have gotten a class from the masters, but they aren’t on that level just yet.
01) German Army – Bondage Commune
02) German Army – Crooning Ignorance
03) German Army – Travelers
04) Nový Svět – Oneofakind