11/2021, Chrom Records • GERMANY: Odyssey Music Network/Rough Trade • INTERNATIONAL: Prophecy Productions
A lot has happened since Deine Lakaien first appeared on the scene 35 years ago. Founded by vocalist Alexander Veljanov and composer Ernst Horn, the electronic avant-garde duo took its name from the Einstürzende Neubauten track “Die genaue Zeit” and wanted to set itself apart from other popular synth-pop duos like Yazoo, Soft Cell, Eurythmics, Blancmange, and OMD.In the early days, the arrangements were purely electronic with an avant-garde bent.
Over the years, however, acoustic elements, sometimes subtle, sometimes less so, started to appear on their records, and at their shows, you were as likely to hear puristic electronic arrangements as you were a full orchestral backdrop. Soon, their vast and eclectic catalogue, beautifully represented by the most recent anniversary compilations, “XXX. The 30 Years Retrospective“ (2016) and “The 30 Years Retrospective: Live“ (2018), will see another addition: The upcoming double album “Dual” is a charismatic gem. It is set for release on 16 April 2021.
With their unconventional interpretation of the Patti Smith/Bruce Springsteen classic, “Because The Night”, and the corresponding original composition, “Because Of Because”, Alexander and Ernst are preparing the ground for an unusual concept album, consisting of a fascinating selection of cover songs, which even seasoned fans of Deine Lakaien, familiar with the duo’s breathtaking stylistic range, will not expect. And to complement them, a collection of brand new original songs, which make reference, musically or thematically, to the respective cover songs.
“We had a pretty large selection of material to choose from. What we didn’t want, was to go with songs from huge artists or legends that meant a lot to us personally. We were looking for songs that spoke to us and made us want to transform them and to give them our Deine Lakaien aesthetic“, Alexander comments on the selection of cover songs that made the final tracklist of “Dual”. “Apart from a few exceptions, I avoided icons and idols of mine. Which was interesting, because it enabled us to approach the material without bias, without having to live up to an original that we were in awe of ourselves.”
Unlike Ernst Horn, whose musical socialization started back in the 1960s, Alexander Veljanov’s formative years were the 1980s. It is little wonder then, that The Cure’s “The Walk” should make an appearance on the album, bearing in mind that Robert Smith’s band is probably most akin to the genre, Deine Lakaien are generally associated with.
“‘The Walk‘ dates back to a time I think of as the awakening of Deine Lakaien and it is a great example of how The Cure have developed from melancholy to hysterical, life-affirming, almost child-like, an uptempo synth-based sound”, explains Alexander, who chose most of the cover songs. “The reason it worked so well is because we didn’t just copy the song. Nor did we deconstruct it, rather, it is a tribute to the era. We wanted to make an album that is very much Deine Lakaien, while also honouring the originals.”
“Spoon” is a good example of this perfectly executed concept. Originally by CAN, it was the theme song of the German mini-series “Das Messer”, based on the Francis Durbridge novel “Tim Frazer Gets the Message”, in 1971, and might suggest that experimentalist Ernst Horn was the one behind this particular choice, but far from it. As a matter of fact, the classically trained composer is more influenced by the krautrock legends’ earlier works, unlike Alexander, who was equally disturbed and fascinated by “Spoon” ever since he was a child. Deine Lakaien’s cover version and the corresponding original composition, “Sick Cinema”, are tied together by their oddly accentuated instrumentation, taken from the extensive library of sounds built by Ernst over years and decades by dissecting instrumental sequences from old LP’s as well as jam sessions, which the Munich-based composer arranged at his studio, inviting artists from all over for this specific purpose. He edited the recordings, turning them into multi-samples, that could be reproduced and performed.
For some of their earlier albums and for concerts, Deine Lakaien used to bring in musicians on acoustic instruments as required. But the multi-coloured soundscape of “Dual”, including a Far Eastern flavour introduced by the exotic rhythms on “Spoon” and “Sick Cinema”, the grumbling guitar sound on the duo’s cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and the corresponding “In Your Eyes”, the soothing acoustic and string sounds on the Kansas cover, “Dust In The Wind”, are in fact the result of meticulous sample work, incorporated into the overall sound of the songs by Ernst Horn in an unsurprisingly playful, but ultimately accomplished way.
The more you listen, the more “Dual” shows itself to be a thoroughly diverse journey through several decades of musical history. It was a conscious decision to cover tracks from different genres from those eras and to make “Dual” a truly universal album. Thanks to the band’s unique ability to completely inhabit every single song and make it their own – whether it’s a cover or an original composition – Cat Stevens’ “Lady D’Arbanville” can sit happily next to Jacques Brel’s “La Chanson des Vieux Amants”, “Suspended In Gaffa” by Kate Bush and Linkin Park’s “My December”. Some of their instantly recognizable characteristics are the unusual instrumental passages in which Ernst Horn likes to continue the story of the song in his own way, as well as Alexander Veljanov’s amazing, multi-faceted and deeply moving voice. Alexander took the opportunity to pay tribute to his idol, Jacques Brel, in his own, self-penned, French chanson, “Les Oiseaux”. He also recorded an interpretation of Mussorgsky’s sarcastic “Song Of The Flea” in Russian, a language, he says he understands reasonably well, while his speaking skills were far from perfect. But Alexander was not the only one for whom the Mussorgsky piece presented a particular challenge. Ernst Horn agrees:
“It wouldn’t have been right to try and sound like the original. Our approach was to use our own resources and imagination to get to the heart of the songs and make them our own. The flea song was particularly tricky. It has loads of mood and tempo changes. You can’t just straighten them out in order to create a techno track. A lot of effort has gone into programming those shifts on the computer”, Ernst highlights the challenges and concludes: “Out of respect for the artists, we preserved the structure of the songs, the length of verses and choruses, except for extended interludes which we use to tell our own story. It was very important to us that we respected the originals and would not tinker around with lyrics and other intrinsic elements.”
And so, “Dual” has become anything but an ordinary cover album like lots of bands have been known to put out at some point during the course of their career. “Dual” is more than a lose collection of favourite songs. It combines handpicked songs from extraordinary and influential artists, that left their mark on a certain era or a certain genre, and presents them in a complex and meaningful manner, merging a variety of different genres ranging from French chansons, classical Russian songcraft, post grunge, and European new wave, to American rock, British folk pop and German krautrock. It is Ernst Horn’s exceptional skill as an arranger and Alexander Veljanov’s sublimely gentle, warm and poignant vocals, that tie everything together and make it undeniably “Deine Lakaien”.
The divine interpretations of the cover songs are matched by equally accomplished original compositions. Ernst provided the musical backbone and when it came to writing the lyrics they bounced ideas off each other until they were happy with the result. The cover album would be interesting in and of itself, but the part containing the original compositions is positively riveting. They could easily stand on their own, but as playful companions referencing their adapted counterparts, they reveal the band’s finesse and their maturity as artists. While opener “Because Of Because”, a response to the Patti Smith classic “Because The Night”, continues the distinct acoustic flavour familiar from earlier Deine Lakaien albums like “Kasmodiah” (1999), “White Lies” (2002) and “April Skies” (2005), the exotically throbbing “Sick Cinema” takes listeners on a trip into Far Eastern territories previously associated with krautrock legends CAN. It is followed by “In Your Eyes”, their answer to Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”, which combines gloomy piano sounds with edgy guitar riffs. As always, delicately crafted instrumental passages convey that special Deine Lakaien vibe which never fails to captivate their audience.
“We take our time and we like instrumental parts. The record company could do without them, but to us, they are essential”, insists Ernst. “Our cover versions are no exception: We have created instrumental parts for them to reflect everything and to show a kind of progression. It is a characteristic of our own songs, that we take our time for musical explorations beyond verse and chorus, or verse, bridge, chorus. We want to give everything a meaningful shape.”
The tracklist reflects that ambition: Rather than mirroring the ten cover songs 1:1, it has its own dynamic. For instance, after the first three vibrant and energetic tracks, the melancholy “Snow” with its string and piano arrangements is an invitation to pause for a moment, before “Happy Man” brings back a percussive style and the wonderfully up-tempo “Run” serves as a nostalgic throwback to the sound of The Cure during their more electronic period with “The Walk” and is a potential dancefloor hit waiting in the wings. The musical part of the beautifully arranged and versatile Deine Lakaien creations is completed with “Les Oiseaux”, sung in French, “Unknown Friend” with its wistful vocals and sophisticated instrumentation, the darkly experimental “Qubit Man”, and culminates in an insightful epilogue in the shape of the ballad “Someone To Come Home To”, a comforting response to Linkin Park’s “My December”.
Text: Dirk Hoffmann
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