To Rococo Rot Speculation

[Domino; 2010]

Styles: post-rock, IDM, grad student
Others: Tortoise, September Collective, Tarwater

This past semester, my roommate and I coined a new genre label: grad student music. Traditionally, music for grad students could be anything ranging from Stereolab to Peter Brötzmann — anything with an academic bent, whether in the lyrical content or the inherent difficulty in listening to the music. We decided that grad student music would need to be the ideal soundtrack to all typical grad student activities: writing papers, grading papers, reading papers, and, most importantly, walking from point A to point B on a spread-out college campus. Toward this end, grad student music needs to have a certain drive and buoyancy, an ability to be engaging without grating or intruding. To give you an idea, the two contenders thus far for Grad Student Album of the Year are Four Tet’s There Is Love In You and Caribou’s Swim.

To Rococo Rot is a band that fits comfortably into our grad student genre. This German trio has been crafting precise, well-conceived music for the better part of 15 years, sitting at the crossroad of post-rock and IDM, two traditionally beloved genres of the graduate student. Considering this is a band whose name is a palindrome that references an 18th-century art movement, one could imagine To Rococo Rot as a coolly detached exercise in academically-informed art. And one would be absolutely correct. That’s the problem with TRR; there has traditionally been very little to get excited about when it comes to a band whose music would perfectly soundtrack an Apple store or a Passat commercial.

Speculation is the band’s seventh LP and their first since 2004’s Hotel Morgen. With members working on other projects (September Collective, Tarwater, Mapstation), such a lengthy break seems to have breathed fresh air into their collective consciousness, as Speculation is easily their strongest effort for nearly a decade. This is a looser affair than anything else in the group’s catalog, surely due to their escaping Berlin city life to record with Jochen Irmler of Faust in his secluded rural German studio. The band has stated that Irmler’s simple, intuitive setup helped to simplify their process, and it shows; Speculation never once labors in its 45-minute running time.

Many of the tracks here have a pleasant swagger. Opening number “Away” is one such song. It’s a nice drop-in to the album, something to which you could imagine happily and efficiently typing emails in a cafe. “Seele” is a song that consistently grabs my attention, even at the fifth pass through the record. Along with “Horses” and “Forwardness,” it’s a part of a suite of songs that showcase a certain lightness, each with a delicate yet driving rhythm. “Forwardness” especially shines with nimble electronics that mirror a xylophone and a buoyant bass bounce. In fact, the highlight of the album is the bass wizardry of Stefan Schneider, whose playing envelops most of the tracks in a welcoming warmth.

The album closes with the 10-plus-minute jam “Fridays,” featuring Irmler on his homemade organ. It’s a “jam” in the truest sense, formless but eventually taking shape, and enforcing the more organic feel of Speculation. This is an impressively refreshing effort for a band that has been hanging around the periphery for so long, perhaps never quite seriously engaging even those who normally appreciate this sort of thing. This album is no doubt fitting for the taxing intellectual demands of grad studenting or for giving ambiance to a gallery opening, but still there is very little here that is arresting or that will keep you coming back. But that’s okay; the world needs bands that are adept at filling the tiny spaces of life, especially those times in which you need just one more word to finish that paper.

Links: To Rococo Rot - Domino

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