The Notwist underwent an abrupt stylistic shift sometime in the mid-'90s, somewhere in Germany; their abrasive punk songs suddenly became a more pacified, drum-machined something else. We're in a whole new decade now and it's still hard to describe. But any way you cut it, Neon Golden abounds with blip-intensive stutter-step beats and a lovingly textured--and never overproduced--warmth. The Notwist's skitter-heavy electronic percussion skirts the delicate preciousness of some of Iceland's finest, and their instrumentation is tasteful and unpredictable--Neon Golden even fakes you into lo-fi territory early on, only to subtly and gradually lay on the electrodes as the time passes.
It's hard not to get the feeling that the Notwist have fully realized that "other" genre that more established artists such as Beck and R.E.M. have been dancing around in recent years, almost able, but not quite, to crystallize the rock-techno fusion as something entirely its own apart from the simple pop-rock tag. Now consider it crystallized. It's some strange marriage of IDM and singer-songwriter earnestness of emotion, but it works.
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Full of false starts and intricately woven sounds, even the more natural noises on Neon Golden are obscured: The guitars are tinny, the strings are muffled and many notes are fractured, not allowed to bleed into each other. "This Room" crackles along on its fidgety electronic framework, hitting a poignant, human note of claustrophobia along the way: "No matter what we say/No matter what we think/We'll never leave this room." The refrain of "Pick Up the Phone" implores an anonymous person, over an exquisite, sliced-and-diced guitar riff, to "Pick up the phone/And answer me at last/Today I will step out of your past." Perhaps most of all it's refreshing to hear something so human so obviously manufactured with machines--and not have any of the feeling lost in the process.