A few months ago we had a fruitful discussion of German pop music. The name Erdmöbel ("Earth Furniture") came up, in the comments, and I decided to visit the nearest record store and buy their first CD, Altes Gasthaus Love. I immediately became hooked, and thus was among the first in line for the second release, für die nicht wissen wie.
Erdmöbel is a German pop band. They make hummable, delightful pop music — 4 or 5 minute songs. They will never compose a suite for symphony orchestra on the theme of the Nibelungen. They will never create a political concept album with dense, threatening music clumsy lyrics sprinkled with words like "oppress" and "exploit."
Erdmöbel sets itself a higher challenge: writing catchy pop tunes. You’ve got to be disciplined and very, very smart to do this well. And man, do they do it well! The first album is a minor masterpiece of bright, sinuous songcrafting. The musical textures are light and transparent, and the instrumentation varied.
There’s really no filler; each song has its own quirks and pleasures, and can’t be confused with any other. The first five tracks are all gems; standouts include the strangely touching "Dawai, Dawai" and "In the shoes of Audrey Hepburn," which captures the fey, calculated silliness of Holly Golightly; and Mit dem falschen Schatz in Venedig ("With the wrong darling in Venice"), a whimsical tale of infidelity which starts in a plodding kraftwerk-like monotone, but then bursts into tourist-brochure Venetian musical sunshine, complete with mandolins. Altes Gasthaus Love impresses on first hearing, and the ingenious hooks then take up welcome residence in the subconscious.
The latest album, für die nicht wissen wie, ("for those people who don’t know how," very roughly translated) doesn’t quite bowl you over, but perhaps mostly because the listener’s expectations are so high. The record begins on a Beatles-esque note with the song für die nicht wissen wie, then segues to the juicy, festive electropop of "A song about nothing" (Ein Lied über gar nichts), then there’s a song about the world, then about someone’s nightshirt, then about plenty of other things. Once again, each song is utterly itself, most of them stride confidently into your subconscious, and the album can be listened to over and over because so much care and talent has been put into it. The lyrics, the instrumentation, and the melodies are full of hidden hooks and latent surprises.
Erdmöbel is world-class pop music. It’s heartening to see it coming from Germany. German bands such as Die Fantastischen Vier and Wir Sind Helden are nice as far as they go. But what they’re doing was done as well, or better, 7 years ago, in English. Erdmöbel’s sensibility puts it in the clever-pop realm with bands like Prefab Sprout, Aztec Camera, or Steely Dan (who are named after the dildo shared by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas). But Erdmöbel are doing their own thing, and are outstripping many comers (say, Prefrab Sprout) in the innovativeness and musicality of their instrumentation. Added that their sly, winsomely ironic lyrics (whose clever allusions I am, of course, not fully grasping), and the world should be beating a path to their door. Even if the world has to learn German first.