The desire to classify and process our time is great. Of all things, an album written before the pandemic can do that with apparent ease. On her 13. On their album "Nie wieder Krieg" (Never Again War), Tocotronic deal with the formative feelings of the present. For 29 years, the band has been an anchor of German-language rock music – more life company than any Facebooklike.
"Appropriate for the time" say Tocotronic – but not only in the face of an impending war in Europe, the band is faithful companion and sculptor of feelings. On their new album "Nie Wieder Krieg" they draw precise musical pictures about longings, vulnerability and ambivalence that fit comfortingly into these times. Sounding slogans emerge that never remain superficial – behind the powerful slogans are multifaceted sentiments, all varieties of life, but above all, as you know it from Tocotronic, statements about one’s own brokenness. The band itself calls it: "disarmingly personal".
An album that gives comfort
At first you may find it hard to believe that the songs were written before 2020, because surprisingly often they are the feelings of our (pandemic) time expressed in music – only that they just bring about positivity. Last but not least, the band has been quoting the jazz musician Albert Ayler for many years at their live shows with "Music is the healing force of the universe". Singer Dirk von Lowtzow says in an interview: "It always needs [in the songs] exactly these moments of deepest abandonment, or existential loneliness, in order to create a feeling of community in the listeners, so that they say: It’s the same for us and someone is suffering for us. And that gives hope."
"Nie wieder Krieg" by Tocotronic will be released on 28.1.2022
In any case, the album has a comforting, processing and hopeful effect. It is impressive that they achieve this mainly not with positive themes, but by singing about the abysses. The album swings from gentle fragility and subtle wit to rocking, anti-fascist messages. The dark corners are finely distributed, mostly the guitars rumble energetically behind Dirk von Lowtzow’s linguistic worlds. Even lines like "This is a cry for help, I’m not over yet" are delivered tenderly, but never tearfully, and usually with gusto. Only with the bonus tracks it becomes really depressing and melancholic.
If you enjoy cross-references, you will have fun with Tocotronic. Many songs tie in one way or another to old ones. Where on the last album was still sung "What I wrote is now erased [. ] Paper and graphite and vinyl, to the garbage with it" is now in the last bonus track "Sirius" the continuation of this thought: "I continue to write – an escape. Habit or craving for recognition?"The music of Tocotronic – you have to call it a coherent "work".
The idea of self-dissolution
Tocotronic have always worked on the idea of greatness through the liberation from the compulsion to be strong. What first became concrete in 2007 on the album "Kapitulation" in lines like "Mein Ruin ist mein Triumph" continues today in brutally honestly portrayed fragility. What was more of an idea back then is now lived in the songs in all openness and disarmed.
In the darker parts of the album it shows in personal lines like: "Here you see how a man disintegrates", or in the images of physical and psychic frailties "as if death is written in my heart". The band understands it as an artistic position to play with discord. True strength in weakness – since the band’s inception a hope and salvation for all freaks and freakouts. In the understatement and sign exchange they are all freed from the compulsion of performance.
Gloria Endres de Oliveira
Being against it
In the typical tocotronic split, however, everything has two sides – on the one hand the desire for love, on the other hand rejection. In the in-between is where Tocotronic takes place. Generous, open, versatile. And like no other artist*s at the same time modest and megalomaniac.
Dirk von Lowtzow: "Exactly in this ambivalence moves almost everything we have done in the past 30 years. There are always these pieces that express a great longing, for togetherness, for solidarity, for being part of a community. This already starts with ‘I want to be part of a youth movement’ and similar songs. And there are equally the pieces that say: ‘All I want is nothing to do with you’, where it’s about a great fear of appropriation. And I think that in these two opposite poles a contradiction arises that is quite characteristic for what we do."
On the new album, being against it also becomes refreshingly concrete again. In the song "Youth without God against fascism" the elites are met with rejection, there is the line on it: "On the street you see things you don’t own all – diamonds, silver rings you trample". That describes the rejection of a generation that no longer has a prospect of prepotent luxury. There is no better way to capture the youthful zeitgeist in music.
Musical patterns keep popping up on Tocotronic, evolving a bit and you quickly guess which Tocotronic category you can put a song in. The numbers were partly recorded live, which is good for them and audibly gives them a naturalness and rawness.
But there is another small musical surprise on the album. "Nachtflug" is the name of the song, which is strongly reminiscent of the Tocotronic aesthetics of the 90s, which have not been heard in a long time. Dirk’s guitar is wobbling on it like once in "Fur immer dein Feind", Jan Muller’s bass is booming like in "Die Grenzen des guten Geschmacks 2" and Arne Zank is doing funny drumfills. Dirk von Lowtzow: "That was a funny moment when we rehearsed the song. We immediately had the feeling that this is totally oldschool Tocotronic and found it very funny. We all simultaneously enjoyed and laughed our heads off at how reminiscent this is of certain musical aesthetics from the 90s. Almost reminiscent of dreampop styles of bands like Galaxie 500, of whom we were big fans at the time. Sometimes this kind of thing arises and then you can allow it".
Especially worth mentioning is also the first duet in the band’s history. In collaboration with Anja Plaschg aka Soap&Skin we created "Ich tauche auf", an unapproachable, sibling love story. Delicate and fragile, the song winds around a maw from which there is no escape. There is no social distancing in the video either – an unusually new level of closeness for Tocotronic.
A strange blemish
And for all the praise that can be heaped on the album, the band also made a strange mistake – one might almost say a blemish. The song "I hate it here" is silly in the best sense, no: humorous. At least that’s how it’s meant. First, the great line goes, "Like a pizza you try to spice up – with herbs of Provence I don’t stand a chance". But then Dirk von Lowtzow sings the line "I hate it here" a few times so unhappily that it can hardly be understood otherwise than "I hate it".
"She" would then not mean the pizza, but the woman who left him in the song. If you understand it that way, the song becomes a hate song against a woman who left. No need to elaborate on why this is tricky, to say the least. Dirk emphasizes in the interview that it was never meant that way: "I would never write a song with the sentence ‘I hate her’ in it." And nobody would expect that from Tocotronic – on the contrary, the other person is always addressed without gender in the lyrics since "Du bist hier nicht in Seattle, Dirk" in 1993. So the fact that this is a phonetic accident, a technical mistake, a mishap, is clear, but still annoying. And it is equally astonishing that this was not already noticed in the process of creation.
The life companions Tocotronic
This album can be a faithful companion in lonely nights. It’s precise and diverse, but also paints loud pictures of the inconcrete. A celebration of contradiction, freed from any constraint. Tocotronic, the band for the doubtful, hit the nerve of the times in their process of self-dissolution.