Tangerine Dream is a project that has been around a long time. They have countless albums and soundtracks under their belt, and the releases keep coming. After releasing an EP last year, they are back with a full studio album called Raum. It releases on February 25th through Kscope.
The current incarnation of this group has impressed me thus far. I’ve enjoyed their resurgence, perhaps bolstered somewhat by the popularity of the Stranger Things soundtrack. The lineup on this album includes Thorsten Quaeschning on synthesizer and as musical director, Paul Frick on synthesizer, and Hoshiko Yamane on violin.
I’ve been mulling over this record for a month now. I couldn’t quite make up my mind about it. While the classic Tangerine Dream sound is there—this is still progressive electronic music—Hoshiko’s violin is far more common, and not just for embellishments here and there. No, there are portions that almost sound folksy to a certain extent; hovering violins are common in conjunction with the synthetic elements. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but it does mean that some portions of some songs can feel a little repetitive and even gnawing. I’m not sure why I feel that way, but it is an effect I noticed early on in my listening.
I would also point out that the compositional style is a little different here than, say, on their 2017 album Quantum Gate. That album had purposeful, deliberate melody and rhythm, and songs would transition splendidly and meaningfully. With Raum, the music is definitely more ambient, less direct. It is sonically beautiful and ethereal, even, but listening to a few minutes of a track can often give you the basic song idea that will then be stretched out over 7, 14, or even 20 minutes. And, many times, you wouldn’t be missing anything if you decided to skip to the next track after a couple minutes.
It might sound like I dislike Raum, then, but I actually quite enjoy it. It is a warm, pulsating experience that leaves nothing but pleasant, harmonious feelings when it is over. Will you remember much about it? Probably not, except that it was a lovely affair overall. The album feels abstract and even amorphous in that way, aside from a couple stand out tracks. The album seems to be all about the aura it creates.
Again, none of this is a real problem. I just found that the EP released last year contained two of the best tracks on this new album. “Raum” and “Continuum” were both on the EP, and they are both still amazing tracks. The title track is like a formless breath of light that floats and colors your mind. “Continuum” has more of a beat, and I like the interesting little rhythms and melodies that are used. It honestly feels like something from a video game score.
Raum as an album is perhaps structured in a way that does not accentuate its strengths, though. The opening track, “In 256 Zeichen”, is a nineteen-minute song that feels cautious, ghostly, and lush. It is a sublime song that could have maybe used 5 minutes trimmed off the length. It does go through some fantastic phases and transitions, though, with my favorite parts coming in the last 4-5 minutes. So, right out of the gate, the album begins at a slow pace.
The next track is my favorite, and will definitely be a favorite song for this year, “You’re Always on Time”. This beauty has riveting violins in the background and a slow-building atmosphere that soon spills into a genuine and golden melody that I find myself humming constantly. That melody could go on forever, as far as I’m concerned. Next comes a shorter track called “Along the Canal”, a song with classic TD vibes and textures galore. It took a couple listens, but I started to become fond of it.
While the first half starts slowly, it remains fairly steady. The second half does not, though. “Continuum” begins this part with relish, but the album soon descends into “Portico” and “What You Should Know about Endings”. I say “descends” because I have mixed feelings about these songs. They are each about 6 minutes in length, so they aren’t necessarily that long. However, “Portico” has something of an annoying, siren-like tone to it, and I find that I don’t enjoy it until the last couple minutes where it becomes more soothing. “What You Should Know About Endings” is a low key track where nothing much happens. It isn’t unpleasant in any way, but it feels too ambient for its own good—this coming from a huge fan of ambient music.
I feel like that song could have been a short interlude, but instead we get a 6-minute lull after a 6-minute abrasion, and thus I end up feeling disconnected from the album for about thirteen full minutes. Finally, as the 14-minute title track and closer begins, I usually feel like I want the album to be over already. This is a shame since “Raum” is a gorgeous and engaging song, but it feels like I had to trudge through a slough of despond in order to get there. It’s just a feeling, I know, but I feel it every single time I listen to this album. Honestly, had “Raum” come directly after “Continuum”, the album still would have been almost an hour long, and it would have been better overall. ***Edit: Someone just pointed out to me that my promo link is based on the vinyl “sides”, and not the order of tracks as would appear on the CD, for instance. This changes things slightly, separating the two tracks I mentioned, but doesn’t really change my feelings about the tracks themselves. It seems that the vinyl version has an inferior track order.***
This isn’t a negative review, as much as it might sound like it. I do like this album, though I might skip a couple tracks in the future. What I do like is very good and honoring to the TD legacy. I do appreciate experimentation and exploration, and I think the group does that here. I feel like it isn’t all successful, though, and some self-editing would have really helped. For TD fans, I don’t see this one becoming a favorite, but it is certainly more than solid and a handsome experience with some highs and lows.
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