An ‘exploded view’ diagram is a technical drawing that displays each constituent element of a particular object, showing each of them individually while illustrating their relationship to both one another, and the whole. While such a thing skirts the edge of tediousness, it is where the latest project from Berlin-based Annika Henderson takes its name. Henderson was originally a respected political journalist, before turning her hand to spacious synth covers of various tracks under the moniker Anika. In a nod to her political background, she once covered ‘Masters Of War’ (one of Bob Dylan’s more acidic protest songs), which was spacey and gripping and featured a chilling voice recording of an Iraqi war veteran recounting the myriad horrors he’d witnessed (“worse than Saddam”) to the sound of wailing sirens in the background. The group grew out of a soundcheck Henderson was undergoing with the other members before a show in Mexico City, where they found that the result was something worth pursuing on its own terms.
The accepted origin story goes that the entirety of this eleven track self-titled LP was recorded on the spot, pursuing a recording philosophy of everything “fully live, fully improvised, first-takes only”. Despite this, the band seem to be following an invisible blueprint, generated & maintained by the obvious, organic connection between the four and seemingly communicated through what I can only assume is a rudimentary form of telepathy. With a few minor exceptions and understandable hiccups, the end result actually sounds remarkably coherent. The four groove in an impressively synchronised fashion – Henderson’s vocals are a smokestack croon, like a steampunk Nico, sustained by a hard-boiled mixture of motorik percussion, post-punk guitars and needly synths. It’s a sound Henderson has brilliantly characterised on her tumblr page as something approaching “sour-kraut”.
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This is hardly surprising, considering the band’s unmistakable debt to the rugged heritage of 70’s krautrock. It’s an album whose running order flits from the subdued to the chaotic with a fluency and poise that belies the often abrasive nature of its content. Tracks like ‘One Too Many’ reach for the brittle, synthetic sensuality of acts like Matthew Barnes’ ambient dub outfit Forest Swords. ‘Disco Glove’ is the group’s most brazen flirtation with outright noise rock, its squawking synths resembling alarm bells, making it sound as though the track were recorded on a factory floor in the middle of an emergency. During ‘Call On The Gods’, Henderson seems to be actually channeling ancient deities, rapidly speaking in tongues to the sound of eruptive percussion.
Some tracks could almost pass for brooding synth-pop were they not sharpened by the angular guitar playing of Martin Thulin and Hector Melgarejo. The claustrophobic ‘No More Parties In The Attic’ is the group’s most straightforward paean to classic krautrock; erratic percussion, atomised guitars, barbed synths and brusque lyricism all compacted together to create an apocalypse in miniature. ‘Orlando’, one of the lead singles, has an industrial lurch and machine gun drums, oiled by Henderson’s hair-raising vocals & the lithe bassplaying of Hugo Quezada. The hook – “Life it sings, it croons, like a kettle on a hob / Life, life, what art thou?” – is an allusion to the Virginia Woolf novel of the same name, itself a playful examination of gender paradigms and their inherently performative nature.
The album is a challenging listen at first, but there are moments of peculiar beauty scattered among its craggy textures. The flashes of cacophony are always highly disciplined – never lapsing into the sort of sonic navel-gazing that sometimes plagued krautrock in its heyday. Repeated listens really do reward, showing how each individual element slots and fits together, and could not really exist independent of one another – much like the style of drawing from which the album takes its name.
‘Exploded View’ is out August 19, via Sacred Bones Records.