Phon°noir: The Objects Don't Need Us
Sub Rosa

On his second album, The Objects Don't Need Us, Berlin-based Matthias Grübel uses vocals, guitars, toy piano, electronics, and unusual rhythm loops to channel his Phon°noir material from some distant spectral zone. Three things in particular lend the songs their distinctive character: a generally curdling ambiance, an unusual sonic palette, and Grübel's vocals. He typically sings in a haunted murmur which makes his voice seem like its emerging from the dark recesses of one's mind. The album sounds remarkable too, not just for its oft-recurring tremolo guitars or for the strangulated howl that appears in “Sing Through the Wires,” but for its rhythm constructions. In place of conventional drumming, Grübel assembles minimal patterns from samples and found sounds; in one of the album's most haunting songs, “A Different Kind of January,” he generates a rhythm from assorted noises, including what sounds like a cash register opening. The combination of raw guitars, dueling glockenspiels, martial snare patterns, and found sounds renders “The Figurines Are Moving” arresting too. Breathing additional life into the material are the angelic whispers of Anna-Lynne Williams (“We Still Miss the Future”) and Marie-Sophie Kanske (“My Paperhouse on Fire”), Fried Dähn's cello (“Gullholmen”), and Calika, who contributes drones to the uplifting instrumental “As Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age.”

Characteristic of the album's tone is the mournful elegy “We Still Miss the Future” where Grübel contemplates “the future we once had,” but not all of the album is so downtrodden in spirit: the agitated “My Paperhouse on Fire” provides a rare uptempo moment, and a more placid side of the Phon°noir persona is captured in the rather bucolic title cut. Regardless of their individual moods, Grübel's songs—perhaps incantations is a better word—are (as he murmurs during “The Figurines Are Moving”) like “quiet explosions” that “amplify your every thought.”

December 2007