A full quarter of a century after Twin Peaks, Angelo Badalamenti‘s languid yet sinister lounge-jazz template has permeated music to the extent that it’s almost a genre in itself, as the preponderance of writers lazy enough to fall back on them as a descriptor, such as my good(ish) self, will attest. Think Chrysta Bell, think Guano Padano‘s “Lynch”, think a million and one neo-noir movies with brushed cymbals. But sometimes it’s hard not to.Bohren & Der Club of Gore‘s latest, Piano Nights, simply revels in exactly the kind of atmosphere that used to envelop that ill-starred town week after week, all smoke and mystery. Although there’s something somehow more urban, more urbane about Bohren, like this is what they’d play in One-Eyed Jacks if it was in the heart of a city, or the kind of thing Agent Cooper might listen to if he had an iPod and was catching the train. It’s music for late-night assignations with the darkness, for the bottle of whiskey that comes accompanied by a pearl-handled revolver, for long journeys anticipating a violent end. Indeed, it’s as much Murakami as Lynch, soundtracking the enigma of a big city, of the psychogeographies of back streets and underground clubs where powerful men plot nefarious deeds and hearts are broken as readily as a wine glass falling from an outstretched hand (presumably onto an expensive carpet). It’s the music that plays past the time you should have gone home, for those timeless hours between late night and early morning, for tracking shots down endless hotel corridors. It’s also, as the title would suggest, largely piano-based. Not in the sense that the piano dominates the proceedings, rather that it leads them, slow, stately and confident. The piano may, like Tom‘s, have been drinking, but it knows the way to go, even if the saxophone seems to be hinting that we might not like what we find when we get there. And, as is Bohren’s wont, it’s intensely slow. Where Earth‘s tranquilised rhythm section conjures images of a planet slowly turning in infinite space, this is the slowness of ash falling from a cigarette, of terrible and final decisions being arrived at unhurriedly. Bohren & Der Club of Gore don’t improvise, though if they did it would prove an interesting concept; it would have little to do with anticipating what the other players would do next, but everything to do with casting the mind back to remember what the other players did last. Seriously, reputations could be won and lost in the time it takes motifs to develop and themes to resolve. But when they do, it’s well worth the wait.
It may seem Bohren have mellowed, settled gently, over many years, back into a comfortably uncomfortable sound, like Earth before them; and to an extent that’s true. But, like Earth, doom is never far away. There’s something vast and apocalyptic about this club; the buzz has turned sour, and behind the opulence awaits the void. And yeah, I’ve mentioned Earth three times now, and STILL Bohren don’t actually sound anything like them. It’s not about sound, or melody, but tempo and atmosphere, and with Bohren atmosphere is all.
Play this one late and lonely. Especially if you have a decent view out over a city or have a long train journey coming up. Exquisite. Sink into it like a thick liquid.