The Notwist Break Down Their Collaboration-Heavy New LP “Vertigo Days” Track by Track

The German group’s first record in six years is out now.
Track by Track
The Notwist Break Down Their Collaboration-Heavy New LP “Vertigo Days” Track by Track

The German group’s first record in six years is out now.

Words: Mike LeSuer

photo by Johannes Maria Haslinger

January 29, 2021

The Notwist have always existed in a lane of their own—their melancholy take on Krautrock never really needed the assistance of unique collaborators to contribute to their singular vision, or even boost the visibility of their globally revered sound. Though that didn’t stop them from pairing with Anticon oddballs Themselves to forge 13 & God, an even more experimental sound that found The Notwist an even broader U.S. audience in the immediate aftermath of their beloved 2002 project Neon Golden.

It’s this spirit of collaboration that revitalized the band for their first release in six years with Vertigo Days, out today, which sees the trio pair up with contemporary voices across various genres, including Angel Bat Dawid, Ben LaMar Gay, and Juana Molina, as well as Japanese photographer Lieko Shiga. On the surface, the record—as the handful of early singles proved—feels comfortably within the band’s wheelhouse, while Vertigo Days’ intimate details set it apart from anything the band’s released over the course of their three-decade career.

To give us an idea of the collaborative process and inspiration behind the record, Markus Acher talks us through the record below.

1. “Al Norte”

When we started recording, we only improvised, and one part was these collages that mostly started with bits from old, scratchy records we looped or processed on the turntable. This is one of these collages.

2. “Into Love / Stars”

“Stars” was an improvisation based on chords and melodies from Cico [Beck], and we recorded more and more layers and arranged to this instrumental. I found the chords and melody for “Into Love” while we were working on “Stars.” The lyrics about moments in life, where all of a sudden everything is upside down and you lose the ground under your feet, I actually wrote before the “corona-crisis,“ and they were meant to be more personal, but then took on a new meaning.

3. “Exit Strategy to Myself”

This song is actually based on tracks from “Stars“ we didn’t use, and also has the same chords. We liked these tracks very much, so we made a new song with it. Lyrically I thought of the too many possibilities you have with mobiles and computers that keep you distant from yourself.

4. “Where You Find Me”

The basic song and chords came from an improvisation. I later found a singing melody and a chorus so that it sounds more like a classic song. We liked that with the organ in the intro it has a reference to “Pick Up the Phone,” or the Neon Golden album in general.

5. “Ship”

We had this monotonous Can-inspired Krautrock riff and rhythm we really liked and we thought Saya [of Japanese pop duo Tenniscoats] would be the perfect singer for it—to give it another twist, and also because her voice (and Japanese lyrics) always sounds wonderful. In the end it sounded even better than we imagined. 

6. “Loose Ends”

I composed this song when we started finishing the record and it’s on the album like we recorded it—Micha [Acher], Cico, and me together in one room, playing and singing everything together, only with a few overdubs. It very much captures the feelings of the first lockdown, but also uses a sampled keyboard sound we made for the movie One of These Days by Bastian Günther. It fit very well to the photographs of Lieko Shiga, we thought, and so we asked her if we could use them for the artwork. From there on the album also became a soundtrack to her pictures.

7. “Into the Ice Age”

The first part is based on an improvisation we did quite in the beginning, and we only edited it and added the brass chords. The second part become more like a song about a surrealistic dream I had, when someone was telling me that soon a new ice age,will come. We thought asking Angel Bat Dawid to add clarinet or vocals could give the song an interesting turn into something else, and it really did. Her clarinet makes the song very special and works as a mother voice that tells another story. 

8. “Oh Sweet Fire”

This song also started with turntable and electronic improvisations, and we later added bass and drums and vocals. It was nearly finished, but somehow we were missing something special, and so we asked Ben LaMar Gay if he would like to contribute something. We didn’t know what he would send…could have been trumpet, electronics, keyboards, a poem…but as he sent these really beautiful vocals about a love story in the midst of the BLM demonstrations, we were really touched and happy. This took the song onto a whole new level.

9. “Ghost”

This is based on an electronic rhythm and baseline by Cico, and Micha added the brass arrangement. It was influenced by Brazilian musicians like Marcos Valle or Tom Ze and how they arrange brass instruments melodically and very rhythmically at the same time.

10. “Sans Soleil”

“Sans Soleil” takes its title from the movie by Chris Marker, which I watched a few times during the first lockdown. The sound idea was also influenced by Brazilian music, with the percussive drumming and the brass arrangements. The lyrics deal with the situation of not being able to move anymore, but also the chance to deal with yourself, because you can’t escape anymore, either.

11. “Night’s Too Dark”

We composed this as a short song at the end of the TV series Das Verschwinden by Hans Christian Schmid, and recorded this longer version for the album because the lyrics and the sound fit very well these days.

12. “Stars”

This is a short electronics/turntable collage again, which we liked, as it sounds like a freaked-out nightmare of minimal music.

13. “Al Sur”

We are big fans of Juana Molina, so we knew that we would be very happy with everything she adds to our music. We sent her a very basic idea with basslines, drums, and keyboards, and she made this incredible song out of it that captures our sound and idea, but makes something totally new out of it.

14. “Into Love Again”

Sometimes there are more possibilities to play and arrange a song, so this time, as we also like soundtrack records with different arrangements of one theme, we recorded two versions of this song…electronic and acoustic. It’s about the experience that nothing is fixed and everything can change from one minute to the next…but also for the better—in moments, you don’t expect it at all. We recorded it with our friends from the Japanese brass band Zayaendo and their very special sound, the live-recording together in one room, but also the friendship that connects us makes this a very unique version.