Apparat - LP5

  • A low point from the electronic balladeer.
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  • Sascha Ring, the Berlin artist known as Apparat, has always cut an unusual figure in electronic music. Since the early 2000s, he's made records that are impressively creative, whether they're to your taste or not. Albums like Multifunktionsebene and Walls—released on the label he cofounded, Shitkatapult!—were stylistically innovative and brilliantly produced, unencumbered by dance music's conventions. In 2011, Ring moved from Shitkatapult! to Mute, and his music took a new tack. The Devil's Walk, released that year, was a grandiose electronic indie-pop album full of sentimental vocals—as Pitchfork said, it pushed him "closer to Coldplay than James Blake." 2013's Krieg Und Frieden (Music For Theatre), adapted from a score to a theater production of Tolstoy's War And Peace, hit new heights of emotive self-seriousness. LP5, Ring's first solo album since then, is his most stripped-down record yet, and possibly his most insufferable. LP5 is, at least in terms of production, an understated record, something Ring says is thanks to Moderat, his trio with Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary of Modeselektor. "Having a huge stage with Moderat gave me a setting for grand gestures and meant I could unburden Apparat from these aspirations," he said. "I don't have to write big pop hymns here; I can just immerse myself in the details and the structures." Many of the details are indeed very nice, like the fluttering breaks on "DAWAN," the album's first single, or the ethereal drum fill in the final moments of "LAMINAR FLOW." The structures are inspired, too, as subtle and unpredictable as freeform poems. All in all, Ring's artistry as a producer and composer is very much there. The problem is the tone, which, from the album's first whimper to the comically bad poetry reading that closes it, is hackneyed and overwrought all the way through. These ten tracks are defined by somber pianos, bittersweet strings and quivering pads—like Sigur Rós, but drained of all mystery. Worst of all, though, is the singing, a half-coherent moan that falls somewhere between Thom Yorke and '90s radio balladeers like David Gray or Five For Fighting. (Not to put too fine a point on it, but Pitchfork's Coldplay comparison feels generous here). On "OUTLIER," a string of gibberish suddenly gives rise to the word "oblivion," which then becomes what passes for the song's refrain. I couldn't help but think of Dana Carvey's pop balled parody, "Choppin' Brocolli." To pinpoint what makes this so cringey, it could be helpful to consider other artists who succeed in doing something vaguely similar. One that sprung to mind was Arca, another artist bearing his soul over minimalist electronic compositions. But Arca's songs have depth, tension and a surreal edge, each one a captivating glimpse into a pained and sensual inner world. Another is James Blake, an artist whose talents I recognize but whose singing has always kept me at arm's length. Even if his music isn't exactly for me, I sense at its base an intriguingly real and complex personality. Ring, by comparison, feels kind of basic. No doubt, he is and always has been a gifted, even visionary producer. He just has terrible taste.
  • Tracklist