März: Wir Sind Hier
While Ekkehard Ehlers has built his reputation on original, provocative works like Plays, Politik braucht keinen Feind, and the recent Soundchambers outing with Franz Hautzinger and Josef Suchy (all released on Staubgold), März, his group project with Albrecht Kunze, turns out to be equally if not even more satisfying. With Wir Sind Hier (We Are Here), the follow-up to 2002's Love Streams, Kunze and Ehlers channel their pop sensibilities into fifty minutes of effervescent, jangly folk-pop that sounds geared more for the campfire than the concert hall. Offering an immediate indication of the album's largely acoustic sound, guests add lapsteel, trombone, framus-longhorn, accordion, and double-bass to Kunze and Ehlers' detailed, immaculate arrangements. Given the expansive instrumental palette of the album's eleven songs, one might think that the two locked themselves away with Pet Sounds and Smile for a month or two before entering the studio. In fact, the banjo, glockenspiel, and vocal harmonies in “Oktober Im Park” (Park in October) literally evoke the Beach Boys' late-60s sound.
Highlights abound. “Biber & Enten (Plattler)” (Beavers and Ducks) is a jubilant techno hoedown of banjos and horns sweetened by sparkling glockenspiel melodies and accordions. The laid-back musings of a lapsteel join bells and electric piano in “Tropige Trauben” to evoke a lazy afternoon at the farm. “Blaue Fäden” (Blue Threads) trades folk-rock for buoyant tech-house pop and enriches its mesmerizing melodies with bubbly bass lines and guitar shimmer. Some songs eschew verse-chorus structures for greater complexity. “März Im Park” (Park in March), for instance, moves from an ambient banjo-field recording intro to a folk-country middle before closing with a soundscape of guitar plucks and strings scrapings that would sound right at home on Plays.
All of the material impresses for the quality of its craft but two songs in particular flirt with perfection. The wistful opener “Forever Never” begins anthemically with bright organ tones and then relaxes into jangly acoustic guitar strums, elegant piano and vibes melodies, and strong, breathy vocals (“It will never never never be the same again”). “The River,” the other stunner, opens simply with acoustic guitars, bass drum and plaintive singing (“If we go out we will jump in the river / if we go out we will jump in the sea / if we return we will live here forever / if we return we will live by the sea”) but strings and trombones eventually deepen the the song's lilting dance rhythms. The two songs are masterfully realized, instrumentally rich, and melodically affecting.
Only one weak moment stands out, a too-repetitive vocal line in “Some Things Do Fall” but the song's horn-driven arrangement almost compensates for it. On the surface, Wir Sind Hier might appear less 'progressive' than other albums in Ehlers' discography but such a judgment is misguided as there's nothing simple or easy about crafting perfect pop music, something März comes close to doing on this immensely satisfying collection. It would be absurd to suggest that the album belongs in the same company as Pet Sounds yet instrumentally at least März approximates the rich splendour of the Beach Boys classic. Certainly one could say that Wir Sind Hier represents März's 'pet sounds' circa 2004.