City Sounds: Berlin

This past Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall. Growing up, I can still remember learning my geography on a globe with a divided Germany, but my only real memory of the Wall is a vague recollection of news bulletins featuring people swinging pickaxes at a graffitied slab of concrete the day the Wall came down. Perhaps it’s significant that these images of protest and creativity – the very things that have kept Berlin at the forefront of artistic innovation for decades – are what made the most lasting impression on the six year old me.

And now, some 22 years later, we are presented with City Sounds: Berlin, a six disc, 71 track collection from Naïve in conjunction with La Gaîté Lyrique, determined to explore that very concept: Berlin’s indispensable role on the international music scene. To listen to this collection in its entirety (approaching seven hours) is an ambitious undertaking, but it’s an endeavor well worth the effort, because, if you’re anything like me, you have a lot to learn about Berliner music.

For one thing, there’s more to City Sounds: Berlin than Kraftwerk and techno. In fact, Kraftwerk are nowhere to be seen. Sure, they occasionally show up as members of other bands – Berlin, after all, is the capital of DIWO (“do it with others”) as the immensely informative 60-page companion booklet is keen to point out. But City Sounds does a good job of keeping things interesting by avoiding what may seem like obvious choices to some and throwing in a few surprises for the uninitiated (like me), including Nick Cave, who makes a couple of appearances on disc one.

But what sets City Sounds: Berlin apart from similar compilations (similar, at least, in scope, though perhaps not depth) is that, while it no doubt makes for enjoyable casual listening, this collection, when given the proper attention, is also intrinsically fascinating. It is better to think of this as a carefully curated audio gallery than a simple CD box set – a direct result of the fact that the music of Berlin, perhaps more than any other scene, is directly tied to the city’s history. From its geographic location – window to the West isolated in the Eastern Bloc – to a West German government that encouraged artists and creative types to settle there, within the confines of the Wall, Berlin was for many years the last bastion of free artistic expression. And it was from this position on the fringe of Western culture, that artists were encouraged to tear down all self-imposed limits and let creativity run away with them.

Whether it’s Krautrock or minimalist electronica that does it for you, there’s plenty to love here.  Or maybe punk and new wave is more your thing. There are some stellar contributions of that sort, too. But for me, it’s been disc six – “Berlin Next!” – that has spent the most time in my rotation. Some highlights from the contemporary Berlin scene, it also happens to be one of the slickest “getting stuff done” records I’ve heard in a long time.

City Sounds: Berlin is only the first in what is planned to be a series of similar collections featuring the great music cities of the world. And if this first installment is any indication of what’s to come, then the City Sounds series promises to be a set worth collecting.

Why yes, we are enjoying the ride with a ‘g’

Hello everyone, we hope you had a wonderful time ringing in the New Year wherever in the world you may be!  That is somewhat belated, but there it is.  Tonight, I am proud to present The Quelle Source, who we previously covered quite briefly on FAIBW.  You remember, I thought they were French or something, but their name is actually German.  More on that later.  FAIBW has gotten away from us recently, but The Quelle Source has not, and now they have released their debut LP, called Enjoy the Ridge.

I’m very excited about this band, and about the flashbacks I’ve been having recently to my middle school punk-loving days.  It wasn’t really real punk, I don’t think–I don’t really know anything about the punk movement, to be honest–it was just MxPx and whatever they played occasionally on the radio.  But I loved it/liked it a lot because my mother would not allow me to love it, and there’s an element to some of the music I’ve been listening to this past year that reminds me of those days.  It’s the energy.  The energy is there, and a little bit of angst, and the feeling of wildness & freedom…but it’s now much more mature and backed by perhaps more training and just plain musical validity than the stuff I used to listen to as a bitty little 12-year old trying to be cool.

That’s what makes The Quelle Source incredible.  Enjoy the Ridge is alive, and it makes you want to see them live  because you know it would be an awesome show.  I would love to see them with Born Ruffians, for that matter.  So, their energy makes them awesome, plus the super cool guitar riffs (“OT5”), the fact that their album title is a sarcastic jab at their neighborhood (I so want to record an album for the sole purpose of saying that I hated my neighborhood and stupid high school also), their proven ability to slow it down (“Wives’ Tale”), the lead singer’s sweet voice, and the angsty lyrical genius reminiscent of Dear & the Headlights or the Format.  I love intelligent songwriters, especially after listening to Britney Spears on the radio this afternoon (who would have thought she’d come back?).  Honestly, I would probably listen to the same couple chords over and over again if the lyrics said something brilliant…thankfully, because of bands like this, I don’t have to make that kind of sacrifice.

Here’s another reason we know they are intelligent–thanks to Dan for picking up on this:  I guess technically we don’t know if they intended that or not, but we’ll just go with a yes, they did.

My favorite tracks on the album are, for their sound and for the sharp lyrics, “That’s What Bees Said,” “State Line,” and “Escalation.”  You won’t be disappointed.  And if you, like me, have a special place in your heart for fake punk (is MxPx real?) or music you listened to in years past and have since abandoned, maybe you can put down that torch and jump on board with The Quelle Source.

I believe you can hear all, or at least a lot, of their album streaming here.  You can also buy it, though.  We like when people buy things.