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Ja, Panik - Die Gruppe

  by Adrian Janes

published: 5 / 7 / 2021

Ja, Panik - Die Gruppe
Label: Bureau B
Format: CD


Intriguing sixth album from Austrian rock band Ja, Panik after several years’ absence, which mixes musical approaches with German and English lyrics.

Ja, Panik are an Austrian band based in Berlin, ‘Die Gruppe’ being their first album since 2014’s ‘Libertatia’. Their music is a fairly melodic rock, toughened by an electronic edge and an intriguing approach to lyric-writing that mingles German and English, both in words and intellectual influences (e.g. the social and music critic Mark Fisher). Apparently it’s not thought cool among many German bands to actually sing in German because of its association with schlager music – roughly speaking, it’s as if an English rock band had to exist in a world dominated by the records of Engelbert Humperdinck. Self-produced under lockdown conditions, ‘Die Gruppe’ has a spare sound, with plenty of space left for each player to do their work. This is often unobtrusive, making the moments when someone breaks out the more powerful, for instance the wailing sax on opener ‘Enter Exit’. Drumless, a tensely strummed guitar keeps the track seemingly on the verge of taking off, a point which never arrives. ‘Gift’ is more immediate, powered by thudding, Banshees-style tom-toms. Often quite cool in tone elsewhere on the album, there is greater passion in Andreas Spechtl’s vocals on this song, matched by wistful sax as he reflects on the paradox “The things that you clean up/Will make you a mess.” For a serious band in the German-speaking countries, the shadow of Kraftwerk and their human/technological concerns would seem to be inescapable. As often as not, Ja, Panik use synths to provide abstract colour, but there are also more melodic examples and lyrical subjects which together suggest some recognition of the Kling Klang worldview. Interspersed by the brief pathos of ‘What If’, three songs almost form a triptych in this respect: the grim-faced ‘Memory Machine’ (“Just a dream in the killing time machine”); the catchy, almost ad-like sentiment of ‘On Livestream’ (“Life’s a dream/On Livestream”), with its eddying keyboard line; and ‘1998’, where Spechtl muses over restrained, plangent music about his early ventures online and, perhaps alluding to the subsequent personal and political anxiety that now exists, how ” Paranoia invented the World Wide Wall”. A jagged guitar break leads to an effectively moving coda, wary keyboard notes eyeing the ambiguous gifts of the Internet: “I was looking for you/But I found all sorts of things.” In a recent interview, Spechtl noted the irony underlying the visit to the doctor in ‘The Cure’: “Those who are destroying you want to heal you at the same time, so that you can be reintegrated into a system that is destroying you.” In the song, this same irony surfaces in the cheery chant, “The only cure for capitalism/Is more, more, more, more capitalism.”. The conditions that produce the sickness are implied by discordant sounds floating about his voice. This track leads into a final sequence which, musically and/or lyrically, takes a still darker turn. ‘Die Gruppe’ itself has a mournful synth intro, before launching into the most powerful pounding of guitar and drums on the entire record, Spechtl also singing one of the more impressive vocal melodies. Although ‘Back Up’ is sweetened by harmony vocals and an almost African feel to the guitar and drums, the core of the lyrics is in the twist on the Tears For Fears title, whereby: “Everybody wants to own the end of the world”. As if to underline this direction of travel, the final track is the epic ‘Apocalypse or Revolution’. The fact that this sober, slow piece is largely sung in German makes the verse-capping repetition of the English title (an echo of Rosa Luxemburg’s World War One slogan, “Socialism or Barbarism”) all the more disturbing each time it comes. The song finally collapses in a strange blend of jazzy piano and electronica, a musical version of the options on offer. Ignorant of German, this writer has had to focus on the album’s seam of English lyrics (which are clearly important too). Ja, Panik’s unusual blend of both languages (sometimes even rhyming words from the two) highlights how potentially alienating much rock and pop must be for listeners who don’t have English as their first language. ‘Enter Exit’ crystallises the problem in the suggestive phrase “A hostage to language”. In what English content there is, Spechtl shows an enviable aptitude with the language that evokes Robert Rotifer. Fluency in both would presumably provide an even richer experience. As it is, there is enough musicality, challenging moods and thoughtful words to make ‘Die Gruppe’ a worthwhile listen, wherever you come from.

Track Listing:-
1 Enter Exit
2 Gift
3 Memory Machine
4 What If
5 On Livestream
6 1998
7 The Cure
8 Die Gruppe
9 The Zing of Silence
10 Backup
11 Apocalypse or Revolution

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