01 Mar 2022 - Thorsten
Indie-Pop | Less Records / Cargo Records | Release date: 04 Mar 2022 | Favorite song: Vacant Lots
I confess that the following review will be a nostalgic trip into German indie fields around the millennium with references to some bands that many people probably won’t know which doesn’t necessarily mean these acts are less interesting – only problem: They are/were German. Subterfuge was/is a German band. Their music wasn’t/isn’t. Glad they gave us this new record.
Subterfuge were around for roughly 15 years, made four full-lengths, had several singles and some-hundreds shows and even for German measures they were never at the top of the pops. Maybe because they – unlike the friendly rockers caught between “New York, Rio, Rosenheim” or pseudo-punk acts like “die Hosen” - never aimed for the charts. Their music was never meant to be selling millions. But it was meant to creep and claim the hearts of those who listened.
With one foot in the British sands of the mid-60s and one close to the waves of the Pacific crushing onto Californian sand, the band from Düsseldorf now seems to have found a sound that is still just as un-appealing to the masses as before but that holds a lot of the trademarks you can hear on Revolver, Rubber Soul or on Pet Sounds and most recently on Smile. Some people might also hear Miles (or the lush pop parts in 13th Floor Elevators), the strange urgency of Pale (or in some way The Jam). They keep from trying to emulate really successful German indie-paths like those by Tocotronic or Die Sterne, their sound is a bit too optimistic and not sarcastic enough.
Every song on Dots. makes sense, no matter how strange it may sound – a very good example might be ”Vacant Lots” that might reminds people my age and with my listening habits a bit of a mix between Slut (yes, there was a German band of that name!) and Queens of the Stone Age because of the highly repetitive start to the song just before it breaks into kind of Beatles-tale sung the Ashbury Heights-folks of the late 60s. Much of the latter has to do with the multiple voices joining in. And when the song starts to gain grit (at around the halfway-mark) it grows to a bit of Pixies-thing and then glide back into ”Across The Universe”-mode. A wonderful song, spanning decades of pop-music-evolution (always the tasty, guitar-based version) within seven minutes.
Another good example of the song-writing skills of the lot might be ”The Snake Wife”, an upbeat-song of just 3,5 minutes’ length. As elaborate and as manifold as ”Vacant Lots” is, all that is not true for ”The Snake Wife”. The song is simple, mellow and provides this perfect late summer feeling at the beginning of September, when the air is still warm, when the sun gives us still plenty of bright hours and when it is just perfect to ride with your car and the windows down from town to town with the sun at your back or shining into your face – Pale-moments as I used to call them back then. And in these moments songs like ”Snake Wife” or the following ”Margarine” are just the perfect soundtrack to driving in the late hours of the day – or the wee hours of the morning. When the madrugada is over and the sun graces your face then you will be smiling because of lines like the first line of ”Margarine”: ”There is a house in East Berlin / that feels and smiles like Margarine” - you will be smiling because obviously you understood the hint and the subversion.
This shows pretty well, what Subterfuge stands for: very well-made, handwritten songs with a strong knowledge of pop-music and a twinkle in the eye for each nicely subverted song they included in their own songs. And that is a reason why we can be happy that Subterfuge are back. No matter whether you are German or not. Maybe this music can be enjoyed by many. Because hey, The Beatles and Beach Boys were not loved by their countrymen only, right? ;-)