by Dylan Pennell (@dylan_pennell)
Without listening to a note of Operator Music Band’s discography it’s easy to dismiss it on pretense and their endless evocation of krautrock archetypes and posturing. Over the course of a meager three EPs the band has slowly but surely proven those first impressions wrong. Sure, the vocals mostly aim for the type of detachment and wryness typical in this realm of the genre. And, well, sure, the driving rhythms are rigid and motorik. And, frankly - well, shit - most of these songs include the same buzzing, humming, and click-clacking synths that have adorned some of the finest Kraftwerk and Neu! releases. But despite a degree of eye-rolling that might accompany listening to a band that uses derivation as its cornerstone, what Operator Music Band has been doing has always been an enjoyable listen at it’s worst, and now with Coördination, OMB show that they are capable of much more, opening a wealth of possibilities for the future of the band and a small treasure of tunes for the listener.
From the get go on Coördination the band undermine expectations by playing a loose and gauzy set of guitar chords. The juxtaposition of loose and airy guitars matched up against motorik live drums and organic, but otherworldly synth squibbles makes for a surprisingly humanistic introduction to a musical world that is so typically perceived as alien. When singer/guitarist Dara Hirsch’s vocals float onto the scene they elevate the song to otherworldly realms simultaneously mystifying and inviting. With introductions as confident and sumptuous as “Realistic Saturation,” it’s easy to be caught up in the carefully modulated dreamworld OMB construct for you and the rest of the EP takes measured precautions to ensure that your visit is as resplendent with joy and tunefulness as it.
Songs like “Sunk” and “Alarmed” continue to service the funk-kraut stylings of the first song via limber basslines with melodic synths and the cool modesty of bandmate Jared Hiller’s vocals. Hiller, playing the foil to Hirsch’s more naturally emotive voice, despite his rigid vocal delivery is able to imbue his songs with a touch of humor. As the songs walk a straight line throughout, Hiller’s vocal timbre walks the same line via tightrope, but constantly tease as if he is going to fall and wander off on his own bemused tangent. While the music bares little to no resemblance, the tension between his vocals and the music sometimes reminds of the stage presence of Ian Curtis during Joy Division’s concerts; the music a microcosm of worldly pain while Curtis himself stiffly flails his extremities in an effort to break out of the song’s dynamics. Of course, OMB never approaches the depths of Joy Division or Ian Curtis, but the way each band flirts with a particular brand of tension and levity conveys a similar spunkiness.
This spunk continues throughout the remaining cuts in the mini-epics contained within “Communicator 4” and “Moto Komplete.” Lyrically, the band continues to elicit the type of lyrical flotsam washed up on the shores of krautrock’s past with references to bureaucracy, progress, and divide, but on “Communicator 4,” a song that rhythmically grooves through its first two minutes before transforming into a romantic car ride at high speed, singer Dara Hirsch once again demonstrates her deft ability to compliment the music. In its first half, the song rides a funky guitar line while she sings brokenly of both the quotidian and its fragility when considering the scope of human existence. The sentiments feel timeless without ever seeming trite before the song quickly changes its tune with a faintly played mid-song piano freakout. What the song morphs into sounds like the most playful song David Bowie never wrote for Low, musically occupying a lonely landscape with a single car speeding through, desperately pressing the gas to escape the terror and loneliness outside the windows. Cleverly, the lyrics seem to start spitting out phrases and words too, as if the world passing by the windows is too fast to ever entirely register, only offering fleeting impressions. This moment is unlike any other on the record in that it ditches the dry humor and funk of the rest of the record and veers into romantic shoegaze territory. The style suits them well and conveys a level of sincerity not often heard from them.
Similarly different is the final track “Moto Komplete,” easily the most kraut-indebted title on the entire record, but despite its obvious name, it takes the most forward-thinking approach to the band’s aesthetic yet. As synths dip in and out of fade, booming drums thump in the background like an encroaching threat. The vocals do nothing to ease the tension as both singers, one singing an octave below the other, creepily intone their instance that “I am strong/Off the wall/You might have faltered/It’s not your fault.” Somehow these declarations manage to feel foreboding, like a lover who comforts you despite a pending breakup. Nothing is eased by the addition of the steadily rising intonation of a piercing synth over the last thirty seconds, enigmatically ending the record on a note of thematic and musical uncertainty, but in doing so giving us the finest and most effective track on this record.
The fact that OMB are willing to prove krautrock more elastic than it inherently is speaks to their adventurousness as songwriters and also their deftness. It takes a skilled hand to not only bend genre, but also integrate the mercurial moods at play here. Moving from the playful keys of “Sunk” to the dread and thunder of “Moto Komplete” all within the span of 19 minutes is no easy task and could have made for a piece of ugly patchwork, but the interplay here consistently sounds seamless and organic. Krautrock itself has never sounded so limber, so willing, and its future so hopeful as it does on Coördination, an album mining the past, but wholly unafraid to speed towards the future.