Published on March 18th, 2017 | by John J Nicol


Review: GAS | Narkopop

A lot of adventurous ears have been waiting for new music under the Gas name since the project faded into silence at the start of this millennium.

In the intervening 17 years, barely a month has past where I’ve not spun one of the first four albums, Gas, Zauberberg, Königsforst, and Pop, all released between 1996 and 2000. I often hit play and listen to all of them in order.

Wolfgang Voigt, who is Gas, is from Cologne. He’s known for working under more than 30 aliases, as well as for being a gifted producer. Voigt is also co-founder of the Kompakt label. Narkopop, due in April, pushes his discography beyond 160 albums.

Gas has a timeless quality, and is rightly regarded as the high-water mark of a fertile period in electronic music. Commonly filed under “ambient techno”, it’s the former genre I’d claim to know much about.

Not that genre matters, but I don’t think this is ambient music. It’s singular, droney electronica, music that works at low levels, but it really opens up when played loud. Gas is like the sound of a thumping nightclub from two streets away, except it’s not a distant muffle, but a high-resolution experience.

The sleeve imagery accompanying Gas albums has always depicted coniferous forest near Voigt’s home. It’s a place he finds deeply inspiring. Photographs from this environment are used on all four preceding albums and are, of course, universal but uniquely structured forms.

They also describe a space with colour, light, dark, and a field of focus. This to me is clearly a visualisation of the music: tiny, sharp incisions, markers in space, and the blur of movement, growth, change, and time.

Gas’s music is an endless layering of broadly similar and repeating forms condensed to create huge clouds of emotive sound. Imagine every piece of music layered over every other piece of music. Classical samples and pop music layered and looped into eternity. Thousands of hours absorbed into dense bytes of musical antimatter.

The fogginess of Gas feels like a result of some laborious and time-consuming process on behalf of the composer, but for the listener, it’s effortless and truly celestial.

The first four albums suggested an incremental development in how Gas’s distinctive sonic approach interlocked with a 4/4 grid.

New forms and textures are released from the blueprint…

The overall effect of this evolution, over the series, results in fractional increase in clarity of focus on some of the finer details in the foreground.

So were does that leave Narkopop and Gas in 2017? Some form of departure would be thrilling, perhaps risky, but ultimately logical. This is what Narkopop ends up doing beautifully. Within the first nanosecond of 1, we are back among the trees. As the album opens out, though, new forms and textures are released from the blueprint.

I thought about this album with great anticipation before I even heard a note, and never once imagined that I’d be transported into John Fahey’s Guitar Excursions Into The Unknown as 6 unfurls.

3 is a beautiful distillation of classical motifs, a swirling futurist vision of Debussy’s Submerged Cathedral. In many ways, it’s the prettiest section of the album, and also one of the shortest tracks at four and a half minutes.

7 feels like a pipe band looped into a Creme and Godly studio cut. Somehow, I even heard a shadow of a barbershop quartet harmonizing around a bizarre groove in the final 17-minute ecstasy of 10.

Everyone will see different outlines and forms in the fog. And every listen suggests new references. It’s music that will connect with any listener that doesn’t treat it as background wallpaper.

Narkopop’s artwork is different, the photos on the sleeve and within the booklet now have architectural elements in among the trees.

It’s music that will connect with any listener that doesn’t treat it as background wallpaper.

Importantly, these elements are in the forest, but are clearly layered within the Photoshop file. Like the vivid, unnatural colours, they’re used as impressions, not static, “real” places.

Narkopop places you in nature, but the city and civilisation is present there as well; the melting pot has more ingredients and influences.

Are we better or worse off than before? Things are different now, that’s for sure.

Like the series of albums it continues, Narkopop absorbs the time it was made and reflects the light and shade and ultimately the beauty of sound itself. It is still wholly compatible with the original Gas concept, but a marvellous evolution – a major release this year.

If Brown Noise Unit did star-ratings, this would be easy.

Narkopop is officially released on vinyl and CD with 21-page hardcover art-book via Kompakt on April 21. Gas will also tour worldwide in 2017. Pre-order here.

About the Author

Graphic Design for IC. Words for BNU. Love nature, seldom visited places, mountain biking, music and not eating or being unmellow to animals. YA HO WHA

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