- Early Anstam releases established German producer Lars Stöwe as a fearsome presence. He fused heavyweight dubstep and hard techno with baroque classical and horror soundtrack tropes to create music that was unapologetically challenging—rhythmically and melodically abstract, when it wasn't bleak and bone-crushing. Names, in stark contrast, opens with a vocal track you could describe as twisted electro pop. Yes, the bass lurches. Yes, it's dense. And yes, Stöwe's lyrics hint at something dreadful happening in the basement. But like the album as a whole, that opening track is surprisingly approachable. You have to wait until "Fragments Of The Good Old Days" for a trademark slab of thundering bass music, while on the perky, melodically ludicrous "Patrick, Frank & Joe Are Chasing The White Rabbitoh," Stöwe sounds not unlike his cartoonish label-mate Siriusmo.
If Stöwe has lightened-up, though, he remains a free spirit, and Names zigzags between moods and styles and is still confrontational. The pithy, upbeat vocal tracks, "I Stopped Counting" and the wonderful "My Messengerette," demonstrate that, like Patrick Wolf, Stöwe can compact his outré musical influences into soaring leftfield pop tracks. Yet, there is no chance of him producing a whole album in that sleek vein. Instead, the slower, fragmented vocal tracks, "The Obvious And The Impeccable" and "So Be It," meander aimlessly, torn between song-structure and Stöwe's instinct towards the difficult and experimental. In the process, they do not impress on either front.
In between, Stöwe drops instrumental tracks equally varied in their tone and character. "Muscle Memories" is a little Anstam-by-numbers, thick with Stöwe's beloved slap-bass, spooky synth-strings and hammering harpsichord-like riffs—none of which can disguise its lack of killer punch. The Vangelis-indebted "Terry Has Got It All" is much better and a melodic triumph, even if, typically, it sounds like the ideas for several tracks crammed into one. You may admire Stöwe's singular approach, but ultimately, as an album, Names feels cluttered, disparate and over-cooked. There are flashes of dazzling talent, but it refuses to cohere into a satisfying whole, sonically or narratively.
02. Muscle Memories
03. I Stopped Counting
04. Fragments Of The Good Old Days
05. So Be It
06. My Messengerette
07. Terry Has Got It All
08. The Obvious And The Impeccable
09. Patrick, Frank And Joe Are Chasing The White Rabbitoh
10. Names (Reprise)