The Chicago duo of Van Christie and Jim Marcus possesses a wide range of stylistic interests (the former has a guitar-rock background; both have experience in house and techno music and a fondness for samples, industrial percussion and a pounding dance beat), all of which come together on the promising Disco Rigido. Though the opening song “Welcome to America” immediately announces “This is a racist nation,” the group’s political agenda never gets in the way of the fun. Melody is minimal; vocal tracks like “Jackhammer” and “Strike to the Body” tend to involve the shouted repetition of simple phrases (à la Nitzer Ebb). Die Warzau’s forte is pure rhythm and samples, and this first album offers up many inspired examples, including “Free Radio Africa” and “Y Tagata en Situ.” (The CD and cassette contain six bonus tracks.)
Big Electric Metal Bass Face is stronger and smarter, a worthy blending of funky rock, chanted vocals, spoken-word samples and proto-electronica. Much closer in sound and spirit to the Red Hot Chili Peppers than My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Die Warzau’s second album is almost a step backwards, relinquishing the clinical brutality of industrial while clinging to its sonic adventurousness. Even club-ready tracks like “Never Again” and “Brand New Convertible Car” retain a rockalized aspect that ensures daylight appeal as well.
Die Warzau’s move to Chicago’s industrial nexus, Wax Trax!, occasioned an album more in keeping with the label’s roster of metronomic noisemakers. The duo enlisted a large group of contributors to help out: ex-Tin Huey hornman Mars Williams, Mindfunk guitarist Louis Svitek, the Swans rhythm section of bassist Algis Kizys and Vinnie Signorelli and others. Although some of it is simple and straightforward in an early Spandau Ballet vein, Engine also gets busy with crashing beats, distorted vocals and disorienting sonic effects. What holds the disparate pieces together is invention and an overriding sense of fun. Even with the air is heavy, the mood stays upbeat.
Returning after a long layoff as a quartet, Die Warzau greeted the 21st century with Convenience, an album that tacitly acknowledges the rise of ambient music in techno as an antidote to the aggro (as well as the rolling cadences of current rap as an alternative to harsh chanting) and winds up being more attuned to pop than anything else. The beats here are rubbery and rounded rather than sharp and hard; Marcus’ vocals are relaxed and gentle, even melodic (!) at times. “Permission” is a truly lovely tough-love song, underlaying singer-songwriter sensitivity with adorable electronic squoinks. Surprising, original and appealing, Convenience breaks the mold and begins a new phase for a band that is clearly unburdened by stylistic stereotypes.