As the dreamy jangle of “Joocha” unfolds at the beginning of Karger Traum’s III, the listener could be forgiven for suspecting that the band has gone soft. The conspicuously Teutonic but ultimately American duo of Blake Lusk and Taylor McKenzie have a well-established rep for severe and austere work, combining the earliest of EBM with contemporaneous NDW stylings. And while “Joocha”, with its whimsical pulse and melodic bubbles perhaps recalling End Of Data or even mid-period Wire, isn’t wholly representative of III as an LP, it does point to a welcome broadening of Lusk and McKenzie’s aesthetic.
While “Joocha” primes the listener for some of what’s to come, III turns out to be a record of moody, airy, and at times downright groovy surprises. The oddball early house beat of “Hallo” is overlaid with zig-zagging smears of vocals and analog gurgles, while the halted, minimal whisperings of “Wieso” perhaps evoke Neubauten at their most, well, Neu!-ish. There are still plenty of EBM fundamentals sprinkled through the record – check the bassline of “Das Ende” – but they’re blended with other forms of cacophony (what sounds like clattering tape winding and some Die Selektion-esque feedback swarms in the case of “Das Ende”). The general intensity of the band’s instrumentation and McKenzie’s still predominantly German vocals remains, but by rapidly cycling in and out of EBM mode, Karger Traum keep you on your toes and manage to work a broad and engaging set of sounds into a pretty tight package.
The sense of openness Karger Traum pursues on III is perhaps best exemplified by mid-album rave-up “Spiegelbild”. Built around blocky and squared-in rhythms, it starts off with the sort of solid and dour minimalism with which Karger Traum came onto the scene, but grows bigger, wider, airier as chimes, toms, and sustained guitar begin to build. Rising into a twilight sky alive with rhythm and colour, it’s one of the more unlikely club numbers you’re likely to hear in 2020. Like Karger Traum now do, it has one foot in EBM and another in far wilder territory.