Sentimentale Jugend by Klimt 1918

Release date: December 2, 2016
Label: Prophecy Records

It’s quite a feat for an album to simultaneously invite us to delve into German industrial side-projects, Italian poetry and also remind us once again that indeed there was some good music to come out of the 1980s. But this one does all three, while enveloping us in gorgeous, shimmering, melancholic dream pop.

The German reference is of course in this double album’s title, which also the name of the duo comprising Alexander Hacke of Einstürzende Neubauten and the one-time poster girl for heroin chic, Christiane F. The Italian poetry is evident in the closer of the second album (Jugend), entitled ‘Stupenda e Misera Città’, a line referring to Rome – the band’s native city – from one of the I Pianti (“The Cries”) poems by the film director and writer, Pier Paolo Pasolini. And the 80s love-in; well, that has been evident in all of Klimt 1918’s releases. However, the lustre of 2008’s Just in Case We’ll Never Meet Again (Soundtrack for the Cassette Generation) has faded. This is more careworn and grimy than their previous album.

Put it this way: they still live in the city, but they have moved from the park-view townhouse to a damp basement apartment populated by waifs and strays. And we should be glad they have done, because the layer of mire makes for a massive step forward from anything Klimt 1918 have done previously. And for all their high-brow referencing – hardly a surprise for a band that named themselves after an Austrian artist and the year of his death – it is possible to immerse yourself in this album without knowing your Accattone from your Tanz Debil.

The album comes as two parts; the first, Sentimentale, is more introverted and seems to take great comfort in its melancholy. Opening songs sounds like crackly portals to soundtracks to John Hughes movies. The opener in particular, ‘Montecristo’ invokes the same shiver up the spine as many of a certain age felt from the Psychedelic Furs, Talk Talk or Simple Minds in those teen movie classics. ‘Comadante’, which follows directly afterwards, is an atmospheric take on a returning citizen, which brings to mind some of Joy Division’s more serene moments.

There are other highlights in the first album, such as ‘It Was to Be’, which is a ghostly trip lasting over seven minutes, building a crescendo towards an exultant ending. Then there is ‘Once We Were’, whose melody is allowed to shine through the fuzz and feedback in a way which is far more effective than the band’s previous albums, which suffered at times from being too shiny.

The 1980s allusions become explicit in the cover of Berlin’s ‘Take my Breath Away’, the final of the quieter songs in the album. The song best known as a power ballad from Top Gun is transformed via lush feedback and a dead-eyed drum beat into something The Jesus and Mary Chain could have included on Psychocandy. The final two songs on Sentimentale, the title track and ‘Gaza Youth (Exist/Resist)’ point towards the more driving sound of the second instalment, and as such sound a little disconnected with the rest of the works that have preceded them.

‘Nostalghia’ begins the Jugend section of the album and it is a lush, shimmering slice of gorgeousness. The delicate guitars and vocals add a worthy chapter to the bassline which has been around since Arcade Fire’s ‘Rebellion’ (or Sisters of Mercy’s ‘Lucretia My Reflection’, depending on your age). ‘Hunger Strike’, midway through the album comes close to the sheer beauty of the opener with its layered guitars sprinkled with sparkly fuzz.

Until the final song, this is as good as it gets for Jugend. It is not that the songs are bad, they just sound a little orthodox if you listen to them after Sentimentale. And things get a little overblown on ‘Resig-Nation’, which comes complete with a horn section. Still, ‘Stupenda e Misera Città’ sends us off on a beautiful, if sad, note, with its 10-minute epic drone which begins and ends with spoken Italian (which, one presumes is excerpts from Pasolini’s work – my knowledge of the Italian language or the country’s left-wing writers isn’t that great).

The compendium is a towering work, possibly a little overlong, but impressive none the less. And it stands easily as Klimt 1918’s best work.

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