To Rococo Rot
ou know how when you’re in a controlled environment with music sealing you off from the minutiae of the outside world, be it in a car with the stereo on or out and about with headphones on, everything seems to lock into step with the music you’re hearing? That hapless pedestrian rushing back to work bounces in time to your jumpy beats; the spokes on that bike messenger’s wheels revolve in a loose whirlwind with your swimming synths; the bus driver at the stoplight is bobbing his head in time to those jagged electrobreaks. Well, in listening to To Rococo Rot’s latest album, and first for Domino, Hotel Morgen, it occurs to me that this is the perfect album for an entire day’s trip for the audio flaneur. The frenzied and the sedate sift seamlessly through each other like the sands in roughly fifty minutes’ worth of an hour-glass, and they provide the soundtrack for the breakpoints in any day. At album’s close, you might as well turn it over again and let it sink through ‘cause the next day’s sure to house the same shifts in momentum, and given America’s love for routine, it’s time to soundtrack it once and for all.
Moving away from the neoclassical experiments of their last album and even further away from the aging post-rock of Tortoise, To Rococo Rot find themselves toying with microhouse, providing the propulsive movement to our workaday hours. When that coffee starts to spike hot frenzy through your fingers and your heart begins to yelp and the light turns green to the fading faces of pedestrians, we have the beats! Of course ever since The Amateur View, To Rococo Rot have slipped a little beat-mickeying into their sudsy electronica, but here the subtle change sounds vigorous and punchy. Opener “Dahlem” begins with pulsing synth tones and a jumpy beat that reminds of Matthew Dear’s latest work before splitting open into stop-start gaps and talkative tones, like some mechanical beast trying to communicate across the void. “Miss You” updates Autobahn-era Kraftwerk to allow for improvements in German engineering, grinding a crunchy, addictive beat for almost four and a half minutes, while “Bologna” pummels the floor with techno-savvy beats and slow, helicopter-chopped acoustic guitars until slow synth sounds cut like searchlights through the track’s druggy haze.
Of course, what would this audiovisual day trip be without the heat of the afternoon, stopping everyone in their tracks to lay out on the grass and cross their legs to the sky? For these moments, as your car sits at a light and your eyes begin to daze in the sizzle of the sun, To Rococo Rot has got some ambient to cool you off! “Feld” is a flood of static that washes over call-to-arms synths, set to march across its abstract landscape before realizing it’s just too damn hot out, making mush of their muskets, and settling down in the dust. “Venus” rises from the beat-smashed cinders of “Basic” with a mechanical-Phoenix display of plinks, plonks, and squiggling chimes still topsy-turvy from the fading concussive stabs, and “Opak” grinds the album to a halt with mournful alien tones, stumbling acoustic guitar, and static haze.
While I’ve read criticism of To Rococo Rot for their unwillingness to break new ground on this outing, the subtleties of their stance have been overlooked. Eight years into their career, the time it took for Beethoven to go from his first to his Pastoral sixth symphony, Hotel Morgen finds To Rococo Rot with a modestly updated sound, the sort of slight seismic shift that may take millions of years to have its say. They understand what classical composers knew: the next symphony won’t bring utter revolution, but as long as it carries the emotional impact of your intent, it’s a grand success. After all, when Tchaikovsky premiered his final symphony, Pathetique, he wrote to his publisher, “It was not exactly a failure, but it was received with some hesitation.” So, sure, this isn’t groundbreaking in a where-were-you-when fashion, but damn if it ain’t enough to highlight your drive through the surging heat of steaming blacktop and the dense grind of summer roadwork. Trust me: those orange-vested roadies will look soooooooo grand turning stop/slow signs to the Robotic samba of “Cosimo.”