This is the first album that I have encountered from Jo Zimmermann's long-running and amusingly titled Schlammpeitziger project (the unwieldy pseudonym is borrowed from a fish that apparently breathes through its anus). The general lack of Schlammpeitziger in my life before now is mostly because the bulk of his oeuvre has been released exclusively on German labels, aside from a retrospective of his early years released on Domino back in 2001. I am delighted that he has finally crossed my path though, as I am endlessly fascinated by outliers and iconoclasts and Zimmermann is a prime specimen. He is also a bit of an erratic pop genius, albeit a gleefully absurd and sometimes self-defeating one. At its best, Damenbartblick is a glimpse of what a slightly tipsy Kraftwerk might have sounded like if they were joined by Steven Stapleton in an extremely whimsical mood. Regrettably, Zimmermann only rarely reaches such heights, but they are wonderful while they last (and the remainder of the album is a pleasant enough batch of bubbly synth-pop instrumentals).
I was not sure what to expect from this album, so I was completely blindsided by the opening "Ekirlu Kong," a bombshell that captures Zimmermann at the absolute height of his powers.It begins with an almost cartoonishly gurgling bass line and a host of jabbering animal noises, but almost immediately coheres into a wonderfully burbling and hook-filled masterclass in idiosyncratic electronic pop.While Zimmermann makes it all seem effortless, the layered complexity is dazzling to behold, as he deftly juggles synths of several different (and delightful) textures while casually tossing off one great melodic hook after another.Also of note, "Ekirlu Kong" is one of the few songs where Zimmermann decided to "sing," which adds a whole new level of appeal, as his droll, deadpan monologue oozes equal parts snarky charisma and wrong-headed derangement.At its core, "Ekirlu Kong" is a charmingly bubbly and sweet love song, but that is not the complete picture, as it is wryly undercut by the perverse absurdity of lines like "your farts smell like the breath of a rainbow unicorn."On paper, that admittedly sounds somewhat infantile and needlessly scatological, but works beautifully in context, injecting some charming subversion into Zimmermann‚Äôs gorgeous pop confection.Lamentably, Damenbartblick never quite reaches that level ever again, though the later and considerably more hostile "Angerrestbay" happily comes somewhat close ("Hey stupid man‚Äìyour brain is a dick").The rest of the lyrics are similarly provocative/ridiculous, of course, but the strangely rolling, dragging groove and funky clean guitars make for another fun and winning formula.
Consequently, I dearly wish Zimmermann sang more on the album, as his vocals are one of the magic ingredients that makes Damenbartblick something to get excited about: it is like an especially smart, funny, and precocious friend made a party album that deliberately mistranslated many lines into amusingly awkward and baffling pronouncements ("You got a perfect health care system‚ÄìI got 18 seagulls flying in circles in my room").As entertaining as that impish piss-takery can be, it would probably get old quickly if Zimmermann were not also something of a synth wunderkind/studio wizard.The latter probably explains why so few of these songs feel like the fully formed synth-pop gems they could be, though Zimmermann is probably also reluctant to wear out the welcome of his limited vocal talents.Given that this is a one-man endeavor, it must take an enormous amount of time to tweak something like "Ekirlu Kong" to glistening perfection, so trying to conjure up an entire album in that vein would probably grind Schlammpeitziger's output to a standstill for a couple of years.No one wants that.I am also curious about who the expected audience for Schlammpeitziger might be, as it is entirely possible that Zimmermann is largely content just making skillful, upbeat Kraftwerk pastiches, but also likes to throw in a few curveballs every now and then to amuse himself.If that is the case, I guess I just love the curveballs.More objectively, however, the instrumental pieces that comprise the bulk of the album lack the character of the vocal ones: they are pleasantly likable rather than great.I do not have any particular aversion to instrumentals, but there is nothing to fill the charisma void left by the disappearance of Schlammpeitziger's human element (more animal noises would be a good start, incidentally).
Of course, I bet I would appreciate Zimmermann‚Äôs instrumentals much more if my vague expectations had not been completely blown to pieces by such a stellar opener.Consequently, it seems unfair to say that this is a flawed album, as any grumbling feels like the whining of a spoiled child.The best analogy that I can come up with for Damenbartblick is that it is like an enchanted vending machine that unexpectedly gave me a freshly prepared dish of great chicken tikka masala rather than, say, a candy bar.On one level, it would be disappointing if most of the time it reverted back to giving me the expected result, but the more significant bit is that something truly amazing happens every now and then.In fact, that is the perfect summation of Schlammpeitziger: something truly amazing happens every now and then, so I would be a fool not to wait around to see what happens next.I suppose that makes Zimmermann more of a "singles artist" rather than an "album artist," but he is at least a damn great one: Schlammpeitziger has my unwavering attention now.