Ulrich Schnauss: A Strangely Isolated Place
City Centre Offices

If they haven't yet done so, fans of melodic electronica should run, not walk, to their favourite outlets to get their copies of Ulrich Schnauss's latest A Strangely Isolated Place. In truth, this second effort is not appreciably different from 2001's Far Away Trains Passing By, but, given the exceptional quality of the debut, that's hardly cause for complaint. Once again, Schnauss creates irresistibly buoyant and celebratory tracks that put lackluster efforts by other ‘warm electronica' artists to shame.

Representative of Schnauss's overall approach are “Gone Forever,” “Monday-Paracetamol,” and “Blumenthal,” all of which begin unassumingly but gradually build to euphoric, sparkling heights, bolstered by massive beats and shimmering synths. “Gone Forever” is an especially gorgeous opener as it gradually escalates through numerous heavenly episodes of tension and release. Schnauss uses a Spector-like 'wall of sound' production style throughout which gives the recording a reverberant, anthemic quality.

The general template of Far Away Trains Passing By is vividly evoked by “A Letter From Home” and “Clear Day” with their skipping beats and synth layers. However, the sophomore release does differ in subtle ways from the debut. “On My Own,” for one, begins with an uncharacteristic bass and drum pattern before layers of vocals and synths shift the piece into more familiar Schnauss territory. Splatterings of squealing, roaring synths give it a darker feel until it ends in a becalmed chill-out manner. Also new are the deep banks of wavering, low-end keyboard melodies on “Clear Day” that offset Judith Beck's soaring vocalizing, while the snarling synths of “In All The Wrong Places” and the thunderous percussion in “A Strangely Isolated Place” elevate these tracks to noisy levels at times.

If there's one thing to quibble over, it's that some overly pretty moments—the bell jinglings and glockenspiel in “Blumenthal,” for example—sometimes push A Strangely Isolated Place dangerously close to cloying 'new age' territory. And perhaps a broader spectrum of moods would provide more contrast to the general air of jubilation that persists throughout. But these caveats hardly overshadow the fact that Schnauss has again crafted an exceptionally engaging hour-long array of expansive and uplifting tracks.

June 2003