Irmler in the Brain

Andrew Culler

Brainwashed, Jan 2004

As the first solo record from any member of Faust, a band heralded as one of the great "collectives" in rock history, LifeLike is worth the wait not because it offers a glimpse back in time or even a fuller understanding of how Irmler's organ fit the Faustian puzzle. While the trained ear might recognize some of his distorted stabs and flourishes rising from the depths, LifeLike keeps any evidence of Faust's shambled pastures to a minimum, focusing instead on Irmler's sprawling textural achievements. He plays organ and keyboard through most of the disc, blending gritty, droning waves through slight passages of clean melodic playing and more impressive flights of erupting noise. To his already beautiful playing, Irmler adds a wealth of field recordings, often perfectly accompanying or mimicking his synthetic textures. The effect is close to a fusion of the vintage progressive synth sound of early Tangerine Dream with the more streamlined collage techniques of today. Pieces of rolling thunder, muffled conversation, city noise, and even tribal chanting add to the mystery of these sound vistas but never in a way that is alarming or disorienting. Everything inches back to Irmler's comfortable keyboard and treated organ swells, creating music that only becomes absorbing if allowed. Several motifs are repeated throughout, giving LifeLike a definite cinematic quality, especially recalling old science fiction soundtracks, something reinforced by the warm gloss coating the record. The occasional hammered pattern or distorted uprising is enough to bring the music back to the surface, but for the most part, LifeLike serves most effectively as the background to bouts of lucid daydreaming. I feel a smug pleasure that my experience with Irmler's work runs counter to that of Ralf Bei der Kellen whose indulgent essay makes up the liner notes to LifeLike. Der Kellen describes the music as a kind of aural biography that, through the act of documentation, helps listeners to hear ordinary sounds in new ways. For me, there is nothing so consciousness-grabbing or life-affirming in LifeLike, but I didn't ask for such things. Irmler has made a beautiful, consistent, and highly visual record that will hopefully not be his last.

Andrew Culler, "Irmler in the Brain", Brainwashed 2004

ref: Brainwashed