Though some may dispute the point, German is not the language most conducive to singing rock. Teutonic death metal, Deutsche industrial extrusions and Wagnerian opera may be one thing, but otherwise it’s a tongue that music trips off with difficulty. True, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Nena, Kraftwerk, Trio, D.A.F. and Nina Hagen have all issued appealing material in German, but the country has been stymied in its ability to feed untranslated indigenous pop to the Anglo-American pipeline. That barrier may be falling a bit, thanks to the international lingua franca of indie-pop. The Bartlebees do all their tweeing in the king’s English, but Pavement pals Blumfeld’s L’Etat et Moi (French LP title, Elvis Presley parody cover and English song titles notwithstanding) is 98 percent German, and it makes not the slightest whit of difference. In fact, when singer/guitarist/pianist Jochen Distelmeyer does spoken-word, German actually works to his audible benefit.
After debuting with the German-only Ich Maschine, the Hamburg group — which includes bassist/guitarist/harmonicat Eike Bohlken and drummer Andre Rattay; guitarist Tobias Levin joined afterward — returned to explore various approaches to bright electric and acoustic pop merriment on L’Etat et Moi by borrowing conceptual and textural ideas from Sonic Youth, the Fall, the Smiths and Aztec Camera, devoting more than five minutes to the unaccompanied recitation of the title track and generally making music that is easy to enjoy (if not understand). Distelmeyer has a pleasantly serious and expressive pop voice, and his habit of occasionally dropping an English phrase without missing a beat adds a provocative footnote to “Sing Sing,” “Ich-Wie Es Wirklich War” (“I-As It Really Was”), “Evergreen” and “L’Etat et Moi (Mein Vorgehen in 4, 5 Sätzen),” which ends by fudging a Dylan quote: “And if my thought dreams could be seen/They’d probably put my head in an ich-machine.”
Taking its magnificent New Ordery title track (which translates as “Amplifier”) from the middle of L’Etat et Moi, the Verstärker EP adds three 1992 tracks that-appropriately-betray a strong Joy Division influence in the trio’s droney down-strummed guitar presence.