rtists in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century were afflicted with an acute sense of mal de siècle. Romanticism’s blush was well off the rose and the city’s artists, musicians, and writers, gripped collectively by a century’s worth of self-awareness, turned to the Decadent movement to shake out their jitters. Decadent artists restyled the neuroses of industrial man as a hyper-perceptivity they called intuition; modern malady repurposed as revelation. The state of the spirit took precedence over the physical world.
A hundred years later, Die Romantik, a trio of Manhattanites who met in Paris, have come out with their debut album, Narcissist’s Waltz. The eleven songs on the record luxuriate in a stately melancholia that sounds like the product of a celestial bellybutton fascination. The band’s closest musical touchstone might be Blonde Redhead’s last two albums: Die Romantik traffic in elegiac rock songs best soaked up in a neo-Baroque parlor room under gas lamps.
They sing a number of songs in French, which might seem like an affectation but ultimately lubricates the vocal melodies while calling to mind a less sleazy Serge Gainsbourg. Unlike the Decemberists, though, Die Romantik are able to evoke exotic ennui by dint of their music alone. Nearly every song inhabits a world where Chopin composed nocturnes for the Beatles. “La Belle Musique De Chambre” cracks open its cabaret oom-pah-pah to accommodate a frantic organ interlude and climaxes with strings of glissando like a dozen maidens swooning. The most unambiguously rocking number, “A Tale Of Terror & Vengeance” could soundtrack a midnight coach ride across misty moors.
The band’s three songwriters create a work that is more than coherent; it’s the product of a hive-mind. This consistency occasionally works to their disadvantage—the middle portion of the album lacks some definition. Vocal hooks are in short supply, and haunted melodies simply drip from every tenebrous crevice. However, since all three are formidable musicians, they add memorable nettles here and there, like the unexpected slide guitar on “Another Round” or the polyrhythmic complexity of “Hantise D’Enfance” (“Childhood Obsession”).
The band knock it out of the box though when they permit a ray of passion to burn through the laudanum haze, as on “Tik Tok” (which provides the album’s most organic union of classical and pop) or “Your Covered Thoughts (Roses Et Pensees Sombres).” The latter staggers dolefully through a starless night for three minutes before a piano line shakes it from its stupor and reveals the roots of despair: “Why won’t you tell me how you really feel?”
Die Romantik have crafted an album of sophisticated arrangements and lullaby melodies that see gloom in revelry and revel in gloom. Like a Decadent’s meticulous catalogue of disquiet, Narcissist’s Waltz teases out the intricacies of sorrow and examines the way we embellish our joylessness until it takes on a bewitching, harmonious shape. Especially when accompanied by a bottle of absinthe.
Reviewed by: Charles Robbins
Reviewed on: 2007-06-25