Tanzmusik Für Roboter
In my fifteen-odd years of listening to Welle:Erdball, the tidbit I’ve encountered which best sums up the idiosyncratic German Commodore-lovers isn’t any of their songs, an album cover, or even one of the home-brew games or demoscene intros they’ve programmed and included with their releases. Instead, it’s a line from an ancient interview, in which the band states that their primary goal for the future “is to sound like Welle:Erdball“. This isn’t only an admirable goal (and possibly the only route for success) for a band as utterly unique as W:E, it’s also poetically apt given their particular retro-futurist aesthetic. The refinement and forward motion of their work journeys towards a moment in time which was never fully realised. Less abstractly, this dedication to their own craft has just now produced their best work in over a decade in Tanzmusik Für Roboter.
It’s tough to explain Welle:Erdball to the uninitiated (which is pretty much everyone on this side of the Atlantic). Presenting themselves not as a band but as a radio station from the past broadcasting through time and the aether, they cleave to a self-imposed sound of chunky Commodore beats and bleeps, and offer immediate synthpoppish delights detailing technological wonders of a bygone age (monorails, Super 8, supersonic aircraft). Having predated the (brief) chiptune craze by a good decade or so, they’ve been building ever more synthetic, ever more melodic iterations of their sound for a fanatical cult for over twenty years now. After some high-concept (even by their standards) records which dealt with WWII time-travel (Operation: Zeitsturm) and Cold War intrigue (Der Kalte Krieg), Tanzmusik Für Roboter is a refreshingly straightfoward suite of poppy gems.
Post their traditional station identification intro, we’re right into the pure Commodore-64 throb of “Gib Mir Meine Zukunft Wieder”. Translating to “give me my old future” (Or possibly “give me my return to the future”? Help me out, German readers.), it’s the sort of aggressive yet uncompromisingly constrained tune which has made up a good third of W:E’s catalog: minimal, but not spacious. Aggressive, but not heavy. If that’s one half of A.L.F. and Honey’s pitch, the next two show off the other: bouncy and somewhat romantic numbers which would annihilate North American dancefloors if only they had a better sense of whimsy. “Der Flipperkönig” (“Pinball”) is the sort of uptempo glamorization of niche and retro tech that W:E have been perfecting for years (fans will likely see an easy parallel to “Super 8”), while “Die Liebe der 3. Art” is a wistful but perky bit of prettiness which speaks to the band’s deeper interests in European pop of all stripes and decades.
As I alluded to earlier, Tanzmusik Für Roboter feels like the purest distillation of Welle:Erdball’s brand of manic oddness to have come along in some time, and possibly the sleekest introduction to their world they’ve ever afforded first-time listeners. This might come at a slight cost for die-hards (the cover of “The Robots” feels too on the nose and the band’s tendency to rerecord old songs note-for-note is perplexingly repeated), but the dividends offered by this record, handily their best at least since 2002’s Die Wunderwelt Der Technik, more than make up for it. More than ever, Welle:Erdball sound like Welle:Erdball, a tautology that only makes sense in a world of nostalgic robots and abandoned media formats. Here they stand, a Bizarro World OMD, marching relentlessly forward but never progressing, a testament to time out of joint.