The Notwist tend to regard their live shows as launchpads where they can blast off from their studio albums on voyages of discovery. Live from Alien Research Center is a terrific document of that process, as the group re-explore the contents of Vertigo Days; their 2021 release which featured an array of guests from Angel Bat Dawid to Juana Molina. 2021-23 might seem a speedy recycling of the same material, but there is valuable quality of freedom and looseness in these live versions; stretched out and stitched together in the kosmische style.
As enjoyable as it has been to spend the past week on an accelerated hypnostroll through The Notwist discography, that probably cannot compensate for the inattention I've paid to it for around two decades. Over that 20 year period, there has been encouragement from reliable sources, which caused the opposite effect… since nothing provokes the contrarian quite like another person imagining they've discovered something which aligns with our own taste. At any rate, and not only in my imagination, The Notwist has been something of an invisible or taken-for-granted phenomenon, at once both subterranean and ubiquitous, not being there while always being there. With no evidence whatsoever, I feel they are content with this position. After all, without being a pastiche, their music and methodology mirrors the long revered German and European music revolution which sparked Tangerine Dream, Faust, Popol Vuh and others into a Year Zero rejection of both the shackles of military history and the occupying force of US music.
Back in 2016 the group released their first live album Superheroes, Ghostvillains + Stuff, a lengthy recording of the last of three sold out concerts from December 2015 in Leipzig, which focuses primarily on material from the group's Neon Golden album (itself a quantum leap from their early noisy incarnation to a sound balancing a melodic popular sensibility with avant-outsider electro-cool). For Alien Research Center the group worked out the song arrangements and then recorded everything in one take—for obvious reasons without an audience. The question of whether this event was a gig should not keep anyone up at night, not least those of us who have attended shows where the group vastly outnumbered the crowd. At 45 minutes it is considerably shorter than the previous live recording, yet performs the same trick of reinventing another of their creative leaps forward, Vertigo Days, by harnessing their absolutely obvious joy of performing. This joy is clearly lapped up by fans. Indeed, the headline to a piece on this gig and album, by Felix Heinecker, translates as "The Return of Our Incredible Humans."
As on the studio album, "Into love / Stars" is a highlight, even more so here extended to an eight minute duration, moving from ultra fragile hyper-melodic vocals and blinking percussive bleeps to blissful, driving, hypnotic krautrock. Cosmic European music, if you will.
On "Where You Find Me" the group sound like it is walking a tightrope strung between Stereolab's shed and the back garden of Eden Ahbez, without falling off. The angular rhythms of "Ship" could easily slot into any Tarwater album, particularly the later ones. I enjoyed the absolute nothingness of "Intermission" as both a palate cleanser and a primer for the smoother second half of the recording. Everything merges into a seamlessly blissed out mantra as "Into the Ice Age" leads into "Oh Sweet Fire," "Sans Soleil," and the achingly wonderful closing piece "Loose Ends."