Following three consecutive collaborative efforts with Danish dream-pop producer Jonas Munk, Engineers’ bassist Mark Peters and bass maestro ASC, the leading figure on the ‘shoetronica’ scene, Ulrich Schnauss has flown solo for his tenth studio album, A Long Way To Fall.
It’s a decision which appears to have inspired something of a musical rethink. Gone are the shimmering reverb-laden instrumentals inspired by the early 90s shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, and in their place are a stream of more rhythmic soundscapes in keeping with the back catalogue of Warp Records’ finest, from the ethereal breakbeat of opener “Her And The Sea,” to the glitchy Boards Of Canada-esque “A Forgotten Birthday” to the layered techno of “I Take Comfort In Your Ignorance.”
The samey criticisms levelled at Schnauss’s recent output, therefore, aren’t particularly valid here, especially considering there are several more melodic offerings which also unexpectedly throw a few nods to the 80s. “The Weight Of Darkening Skies,” an abrasive wall of noise that almost drifts into the same metal-tinged dubstep territory as Nero, contains the kind of robotic vocodered vocals you’d expect from a Cameo record, while there are definite shades of Jean Michel Jarre on “Like A Ghost In Your Life,” a track which could virtually be described as bouncy reggae-pop.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an Ulrich Schnauss album without a mission statement, and A Long Way To Fall doesn’t disappoint. Described by its creator as “celebrating synthesisers while retaining a human quality and open structure,” the Kiel native has indeed imbued his sound with a warmth and personality absent from many of his peers, whether it’s through the New Age post-rock of the title track and crystalline minimalism of “Broken Homes” or the slightly philosophical nature of its song titles.
A Long Way To Fall might disappoint those who were looking forward to something as challenging as 2012’s Underrated Silence, even if it’s hardly a bid for the mainstream. But as a surprisingly playful journey back to one of the early 90s other key musical movements, it’s an equally captivating listen.