German singer-songwriter Yvonne "Niobe" Cornelius penned songs that juxtaposed
heavily processed vocals against a surrealistic backdrop of jazz, exotic, electronic archetypes.
The resulting creations are both nostalgic (harking back to
the pre-war cabaret) and atmospheric in a psychedelic, Angelo Badalamenti-influenced way.
The mini-album Radio Ersatz (2002) exuded a mixture of alienation
and ecstasy. The electronic vignette of
Kaspartransport Mit Einmischung Des Herrn Cowboy projects a post-human
world of happy robots, in which the singer's lines sound out of context.
The human heart is still at the center of
the slow, dejected ballad Everybody Shares A Lounge,
of the horror lullaby Just Night Tonight A Last Talk,
and of the distorted whisper sinking in a suspense-filled alien void
of I Took It Of.
The highlight, however, might be
an instrumental: the derelict orchestral synth-pop of Radio Mexico.
Tse Tse (Sonig, 2002) was a bold experiment in smothering pop music
into moody electronica and further disorienting the listener with effects
that are the musical equivalent of Brecht-ian estrangement.
The basic arrangement is always a mix of voices and electronic sounds,
and the "songs" can sound like Dadaistic variations on
Brian Eno's impressionistic electronic vignettes
(Tic Tac). But the anemic constructs of
Nachtsendung and Little Things Of Frenzy inhabit a rather
introverted world: their melodies emerge from an existential void.
Good Old Owl grafts a Burt Bacharach-esque ballad onto the electronic molasses.
A sardonic humor, worthy of Frank Zappa, shapes
the chaotic seven-minute collage Out Of Limbo and the
eight-minute dissonant chamber lied Sanoukiki.
This is musique concrete for the vaudeville. Not everything works:
the six-minute Virgin De Guadalupe comes through as a
childish imitation of Stockhausen.
Voodooluba (Sonig, 2004) exuded a generally more serious, high-brow
intent, despite the usual parade of skits:
the grotesquely stomping Voodooluba TV Show,
the amateurish musique concrete of Zur Wilden Flotte that turns into a disco-pop ditty,
the orchestral aberration of Like A Dog that turn into a cartoonish robot dance.
There is a more profound meaning in the a-cappella polyphonic chant Maracas And Vocales and the solo wordless vocalizing of Ghoast's Wharf Quartet, as well as in
skeletal pop ballads like Password, Time Too Slow and
Idly Lovely in which the
subdued electroacoustic soundscape is the real protagonist, and the feeble
vocals drift with implacable indifference.
Even the faux African folk music of Tengo Yoruba,
the bubbling and paradisiac Hawaii`s Garden, and
the Asian multi-vocal motet Surprise, which may superficially sound
like mocking the exotica genre express existential discomfort.
A sense of hopeless desolation emerges from the musical pranks.
These songs are the musical equivalent of the tears of a clown.
The more accessible White Hats (Tomlab, 2006) runs the gamut from
hip-shaking funk music (Give All To Love) to
fragile soul balladry (Well And Wise), from orchestral
bossanova (Surround Your Hover)
to emphatic Broadway show-tune (Touch This Flower),
from Bee Gees-style disco-music (Up Hill And Down Dale)
to jazzy drum'n'bass (Cool Alpine).
Little is left of the experimental boldness of the first two albums.
Gone are the shapeless electronic soundscapes, gone are the vocal gimmicks.
At best, Niobe delivers pensive, introverted meditations like
Shirocco & Mistral.
Niobe was quickly forgotten by the very press that had turned her into a global
Blackbird's Echo (Tomlab, 2009)
was highlighted by
Time Is Kindling, an operatic duet with David Grubbs over a vivid noisescape, and
Ava Gardner at the Swimming Pool (a vintage late-night atmosphere),
but not by
the optimistic Louis Armstrong-ian aria Lovely Day nor by the
conventional hip-hop and soul music of Cadillac Night.
The Cclose Calll (Tomlab, 2011) was perhaps a bit too cold and brainy,
but it still contained the
Suicide-like neurosis of
The Stillness and Walk the Walk, if not the
plantation chant You Have to be More and
the cabaret-tish So Much Legend.
Child of Paradise (Onglagoo, 2014), beginning with a lame imitation
of Brazilian pop music (Daybreak), was indeed devoid of interesting
ideas save the dramatic soundscape of Child of Paradise.
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