Music reviewing 101, today’s lesson: Berlin. Berlin is not only a city, but also an adjective in music reviewing. It stands for a certain array of spirit, attitude and clichès, which most people caring for music will immediately recognize as associated with Berlin, even if they cannot explain it any further. So Berlin is a useful tool if you as a reviewer are too lazy to elaborate on a style and just want to put one sufficing term out there. As an example the new album of Årabrot sounds impressively Berlin for its Scandinavian heritage. Of course artists like Bowie or Blixa Bargeld, who even wear aliases alliterating with it, are even Berliner that that. However the Berlinest album coming to my attention recently is the the debut of Lolita Terrorist Sounds.
Assignment: List all the things which make St. Lola so Berlin!
• No female name is more Berlin than Lola. If you’re called Lola and not living in Berlin you’re legally required to move to Kreuzberg.
• The band - or more accurately project led by Maurizio Vitale - is actually based in Berlin.
• The album has been recorded in a formerly abandoned house in East-Berlin, which had been used by the secret services during the Cold War.
• The album partly deals with LGBTQ+ topics, which obviously isn’t exclusively Berlin, yet still is much more likely to occur there than in rural Bavaria.
• The title track tells a love story in the setting of a dreary bridge in Berlin.
• “Prison Song” tells another love drama. It’s located in Paris, but I bet my kidney that’s just a placeholder for Berlin. You can’t fool me that easily!
• “Shaved Girl” addresses the cultural gap between London and - of course - Berlin, which would probably be the most uninteresting topic ever for literally anyone not from London or Berlin, at least if it indeed was the only semantic level of the song.
• The writing of this song saw the involvement of late German-American multimedia Avantgarde artist Bob Rutman, who passed away in Berlin in 2021.
• Vitale’s vocals cultivate a thick unapologetic German accent in an often nasal, punkish delivery.
• The hole aesthetic of Lolita Terrorist Sounds is as raw and unpolished as it is blatantly artsy and experimental.
• Every genre or specific artist recognizable as an influence of this album either comes from Berlin, is associated with Berlin or at least feels like they should be.
• Take Swans! Which American band berlins more? Kristof Hahn even is a special guest on St. Lola, performing his lap steel guitar on most of its seven tracks.
• This album sounds like Michael Gira and Iggy Pop were dueting over a mixture of Goth chic Cabaret Noise Rock and Einstürzende Neubauten ballads.
• Accordingly it sweats bis zum Kollaps in decidedly pre-digital, very analogue and mechanical Industrial craft.
• David Bowie peeps in as his Zoolander cameo self, approving the fashion motif of “Red Carpet”.
• The promo material for the album is way too copious and drowns in unnecessary information and cultural references. (Please explain the already pretty self-explanatory provocation in the band name again! And yes, tell me that it has been generated with help of the cut-up technique of W. Burroughs! Jesus Christ, some people will sell you their post-breakfast burps as art…)
What? No, this review is not a slam!
I know, Berlin can be annoying. And in the wrong mood or at the wrong time this album certainly can be, too.
No, wait! It’s still not a slam! I get that you probably don’t read album reviews berlining so hard very often and that you’re already sick and overberlined by now. Butlin this is berlintually the point, so berlinfore you stop reading please hearlin me out:
Lolita Terrorist Sounds are basically building a sonic - bad pun ahead! - wall of Berlin. At times they drive it to a point where it’s challenging. The structure of the album, with the more accessible hits in the front and the rather abstract droning or ASMR-ish stuff in the back, could also provoke impatient listeners to jump off half-way. It almost seems as if this album wants to annoy you with too much art, too much weird noises, too much Post Punk pretentiousness, too much Berlin. Yet even with all those efforts, even after baptizing us in all that rusty smelly Spree water… it actually fails miserably at this mission. Sorry, but while this undoubtly exists in a specific, not necessarily instantly clicking niche outside of wider audiences’ listening habits, St. Lola actually is quite a great debut, which only gets better on repeat.