German duo Tarwater Robert Lippok and Bernd Jestram combine conventional instrumentation like bass and drums with disorienting abstract samples and a mixture of analog and digital synthesizers, conjuring a mood wrought with cinematic tension.
Eluding categorization, Animals, Suns and Atoms, Tarwater's second album, spans electro, dub, motorik, hip-hop and classical in a way that can only be described as postmodern collage.
The duo's recent single "All of the Ants Left Paris" (RealAudio excerpt) skitters percussive patterns over lush synth chords that underpin Lippok's teutonic drawl, which recalls the lyrical rhythms of David Byrne and the baritone of Lou Reed. (Unlike most German electronic artists, Tarwater employ vocals on most of their songs. "Noon" (RealAudio excerpt) displays a sneaking sense of existential despair, as a spare piano loops over a slow, echoing beat.
Tarwater's most engaging juxtaposition is found in the clinical geometry of their loops and textures and the contrasting introspective human search for place. Like Kraftwerk before them, the fabric of their sound is woven of mechanized and human rhythms, stressing the familiarities and disparities between the two.
Instrumentals such as "Dauphin Sun" (RealAudio excerpt) offer brief escapes from the brooding urban drama, combining a jazzy drum loop with a mellotron melody and acoustic guitar.
Though their tapestries of synths and subtle percussive flares make for beautiful textures, at times their experiments veer too far toward the cerebral. On "Early Risers," Lippok duets with himself, employing a pitch-shift technique on the second vocal to create a chipmunk-like effect that, though interesting, does not transfer well in practice.
Working through the initial frustration with these extremely precise mechanizations seems to represent the mathematical weight of digitized life. One's patience, however, is rewarded upon further listening.