We’ve been longtime proponents of Swedish duo Sturm Café for a variety of reasons, not the least of which has been their exploration of the common ground between trad EBM and classic-era synthpop. While the hybridization of body music and sweeter, more radio ready sounds is nothing new – its the basis for a significant amount of the music played in scene clubs for the better part of three decades now – very few acts have zeroed in on the syncopated rhythm and analogue charms that informed the early evolution of those genres like Jonatan Löftstedt and Gustav Jansson have. To wit, Sturm Café owe as much to Rational Youth and Men Without Hats as they do D.A.F. Their new LP Zeitgeist is the purest expression of that melding of styles thus far, and finds the duo examining the tension between their distinct retro-charm and forward-facing ideas in typically droll fashion.
If you’re unfamiliar with the band’s MO, the LP’s title track lays it all out for you; behind a simply constructed arrangement of bass, synth-hook, and drum machine Löftstedt leans into a vision of the future tempered by uncertainty. The gruff tone of his vocals (sung in German, as is Sturm Cafe’s wont) might lead one to think it’s a straight examination of the state of European policy in an volatile age, except for the synthesized voice that rails against “the modern style” while professing it’s love for gated-reverb and nominating various Roland drum machines to political office. And that’s really where a lot of Zeitgeist exists, an interstitial space where it’s never clear how straight things are being played, and where history and modern concerns are played off against one another. Is “200 år” about contemporary social media addiction, or an examination of the broad scope of 200 years of technological development? Maybe both? Similarly, closing track “V-Gurra” looks at King Gustav of Sweden through the lens of his rumored homosexuality, questioning how much of his reign was informed by the stresslines formed by duty and identity.
As non-native speakers of either German or Swedish, we’re sure there’s a lot of nuance being missed, especially where the sampled use of English for comedic effect is the only thing we can immediately grokk without the help of Google Translate. Thankfully the album is plenty easy to enjoy on the basis of its catchy synthpop hooks whether or not you choose to engage with its cryptic thematics. “Hymne für die Ewigkeit” is amongst the very best tracks that Sturm Café have ever recorded, wedding a hummable refrain to a classic EBM bass sequence, with Löftstedt at his most earnest and energized, as samples sing the praises of body music. That Taco-at-the-Leather-Bar sound is one the group have spent years perfecting, zeroing in on some familiar or nostalgic melody and then adding their own spin; see the twinkly keys that float through the solemn “Seltenen Erden” (the site of another over-the-top bravura vocal from Löftstedt), or the italo-esque synthline that sets off “Reflektion”‘s analogue oompah band bounce.
And really, that’s the key to Sturm Café’s appeal: even if you can’t untangle all the intertwined reference, satire and genuine sentiment, you can just enjoy how fun their music is to listen to. Zeitgeist is as breezy and charming as it is inscrutable and wry.