Virginia Jetzt!

I don’t know an awful lot about this band except what I get from the CDs but if you’re looking for a good introduction to the current avalanche of German music then you could do a lot worse than ‘Wer Hat Angst Vor Virginia Jetzt’ (note the album is 100% German language). I would’ve given ‘Wer Hat Angst…’ four stars if it weren’t for the filler-heavy second half of the album but that shouldn’t
detract from the brilliantly hopeful, sparkling tunes that spatter the rest of this CD.

vj_werhatan.jpg3 starsWer Hat Angst Vor Virginia Jetzt!

(100% Who’s Afraid of Virginia Jetzt!)

Jingly. Jangly. Catchy. Standout tracks : ‘Fast Wie Giganten’, ‘Von guten Eltern’.

 

At times this 4-piece (named after a home-made road sign intended as a declaration of love) can outdo even our own Lightning Seeds on the sugar-and-spice side of things and like Ian Broudie, VJ’s singer, while not possessing the best voice in the world, is perfectly suited to this type of music. Despite the sweetness though, VJ’s music always stops just short of cloying hamminess. Songs such as ‘Fast Wie Giganten’ (Almost Like Giants), the Keane-like ‘Klang’ of ‘Dreifach Schön’ (Three Time as Nice), the sheer light-heartedness jangliness of mini-opener ‘Sie Verlassen Sich auf uns’ (They Depend on Us) with its strings and piano or the uplifting chorus of ‘Von Guten Eltern’ (Of Good Stock) are all brilliantly executed – a great summer album. Anfänger is more of the same but with a slightly mellower, more languid feel helped along no doubt by a liberal dosage of Keane-esque piano. On ‘Weil wir Anfänger Sind’ (‘cos We’re Beginners) VJ even get moody and dramatic in a Yovee-kind of way.

vj_anfang.jpg3 starsAnfänger

(100% Beginners)

Standout tracks : Das Ganz Normale Leben (The Ordinary Life), Ein Ganze Sommer (A Whole Summer)

Virginia Jetzt aren’t ever going to set the world alight but you can breathe easy playing their music in your car if giving your Gran a lift home.

Wir Sind Helden

If you tried to form a Indie band in the UK these days with a pretty lass for a lead singer and some deadbeat-looking guys dressed from an Oxfam shop as backup you’d be laughed out of town as second-rate 90’s throwbacks. Thing is, in Germany they don’t have that Britpop baggage to carry around, which is why Wir Sind Helden sound so fresh and new. With the willowy, vixen-faced beauty Judith Holofernes on vocals you could easily be forgiven for thinking they look just like another bunch of female-fronted Sleeper wannabes. Once the vocals chime in however, any comparisons with Louise Wener come to an abrupt end.

bwsh_dierekl.jpg4 starsDie Reklamation
(The Complaint, 100% native)
Brilliant debut. standout tracks : ‘Guten Tag’, ‘du Erkennst Mich Nicht Wieder’ (You Don’t Recognise Me Anymore), ‘Denkmal’ (Memorial).

WSH have won a ton of awards in Germany over the past couple of years and deservedly so. They sing nearly 100% in German and I like to think of them as the quirky dudes of the Indie scene. Always melodic (Guten Tag/Die Reklamation), sometimes outrageously vaudeville (Aurélie/Die Reklamation) and occasionally melancholy without ever getting into the angst-ridden danger zone of Alanis Morrisette – a good example being ‘Du Erkennst Mich nicht Wieder’ [You don’t recognise me anymore] surely one of the standout tracks from Die Reklamation although not one I’d ever choose as a single.

wsh_vonhier.jpg4 starsVon Hier An Blind
(From here to Wherever, 100% native)

Great follow-up. As rich and varied musically as its predecessor. Standout tracks : ‘Von Hier An Blind’, ‘Nur Ein Wort’ (Just a Word), ‘Wenn Es Passiert’ (When it Happens), ‘Echolot’ (Depth Sounder), ‘Gekommen Um Zu Bleiben’ (Come To Stay).

WSH’s first Album, 2003’s Die Reklamation, is a real slow-burner as my pal Johnny B. likes to say. The tunes are infectious, sung with vigour and the replacement of ‘standard’ second guitar with a portable synth adds a total new dimension to the usual Indie fuzz, as on the intro to Rüssel An Schwanz (Head to Tail). Lyrically WSH are one of the best around – themes sway from consumerism to lost love to subversion to German flirting techniques – with vocals that are soft, powerful and feature the the kind of jerky scansion that will have students of German tied up in verbal knots if they try to sing along. (Incidentally, if learning the German language is your game then try out the Helden Karaoke embedded as a PC feature on Die Reklamation. It plays anti-marketing anthem Guten Tag with its bubbly Rammstein-esque keyboard intro sans vocals – it’s kind of like singing Peter Piper at breakneck speed while glugging from a bottle of Becks).

2005’s follow-up Von Hier An Blind shows the Helden are here to stay. As usual the musical styles are varied – on the swinging ‘Gekommen Um Zu Bleiben’ the Helden couldn’t be more Big Band if they’d morphed into a 15-piece and started doing the Charleston. ‘Echolot’ is yet another example of their ability to produce the kind of tunes which may not catch your attention immediately, yet somehow after the 3rd or 4th play you wonder how the hell you missed it first time round. ‘Echolot’, like ‘Du Erkennst…’ is a plaintive cry between two lovers perfectly suited to Ms. Holofernes’ voice – a track that just grows and grows while the title track with its jaunty Cast-like intro is a poppy affair that wouldn’t be out of place as an offering from their fellow countrymen Virginia Jetzt.

WSH aren’t as accessible as other German bands but if you’re new to German pop then think of the Helden as a great second course to the entrée of say, Virginia Jetzt.

Sportfreunde Stiller

Sportfreunde Stiller (named after a relative, Hans Stiller) have a uniquely German take on a sound somewhat akin to early Blur by way of a slowed down version of Feeder but this 3-piece from Munich are no way second-rate Britpop clones despite their increasing tendency to look like Supergrass. I haven’t got their first album, ‘So Wie Einst Real Madrid’ (they are football nuts apparently), but if their second is anything to go by the missing CD will be arriving on my doormat soon by way of Amazon.de. Read more

Rammstein

When it comes to Rammstein there is much misunderstanding in the UK. A few years ago Q wrote some tosh about the band’s Nazi links which thankfully, Rammstein had the good grace to ignore, while more recently Ali G. dissed the band live on air when introducing them in his capacity of MTV awards compere – shame on you Sasha. The root cause of this disdain is really all to do with their uncompromising image. Rammstein fulfil all the popular UK cliches of the ‘Bosese Deutsche’ gleaned from a zillion cheesy war movies : singing almost 100% in German, singer Till Lindemann alternately whispers and rasps his way through their (sometimes) dark lyrics in a mock-portentous guttural croak. Meanwhile the CDs feature scary photos of the band embalmed in test tubes and, it must be said, the whole lot of ’em are fond of spouting fire from their gobs at the drop of a hat. Lets’ just say you wouldn’t have ’em as your wedding band. Read more

In Extremo

I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when the concept of pairing German rock with a liberal dosage of bagpipes was raised.

In Extremo are a 7-piece band and when you consider their musical influences stretch not just to bone-stripping guitar but also to harps, horns, gongs, chimes, bodhrans, bouzoukis, tablas, shells, sticks, stones and generally any old piece of junk that comes to hand then you can see why. I’ve got this image of In Extremo’s studio looking like a cross between Steptoe and Son’s den and a minstrel’s gallery circa 1543.

ie_7.jpg3 stars7

(100% native)
Mediaeval rock. Not at all as bad as it sounds. Standout track : ‘Küss mich’ (Kiss Me).

It’s all part of the band’s self-confessed attempt to unify mediaeval music with modern rock and I can see the average UK punter’s eyes already glazing over but, if you exclude the opening to ‘Davert Tanz’ with its Corrs-like tweeness and annoying Irish jiggery, then somehow the whole thing works, and rather well. If you really are looking for something quite different then this talented bunch of musicians, who have been around for nearly a decade now, are more than just a novelty.

Like Rammstein, In Extremo tend toward the low, growl type of vocals and on ‘7’ at least, more scary photos of the band in bits abound.

Toten Hosen

In compiling my Kraut Pop guide I wanted to introduce any English-speaking music fans to a narrow slice of German popular music. Keeping each section succint and to the point was my aim but the thing about the Hosen is that they’ve been there and done it all – two paragraphs ain’t gonna do them justice. Read more