Review: Cole & Roedelius – Selected Studies Vol. 1

Anyone approaching this album expecting a straight mash-up of Lloyd Cole’s darkly literate indie-pop and the far-out krautrock of Hans-Joachim Roedelius’s Cluster and Harmonia days will be vastly disappointed. Cole has for a long time held more than a passing interest in the ambient and avant-garde strands of kosmische musik, whilst Roedelius has immersed himself in the sounds of the early modernists, French impressionist composers and atonalists, not to mention the more recent work of Reich and Riley. Bang goes my idea of a review entitled ‘Lloyd Cole’s Clusterfuck’.

After an on-off musical courtship that lasted a decade the two finally decided to get a room. The result of the unlikely coupling is Selected Studies Vol. 1, a collection of ten instrumental pieces beginning and ending in melody but taking in modernist noise and repetitive phrasing on the way. Opener Pastoral kicks off with gentle found sounds that soon lose themselves in a surprisingly warm synth coda. Selbsportrait-Reich is a looping, loving homage to minimalism delivered with the timing of a space-age Debussy. It is an album highlight, and repeated listening reveals a richness and texture sometimes missing from the genre.

Elsewhere, Wandelbar is darker, its stretched-out series of drones overlaid with blackly shimmering noise. Virginie L. and closing track Lullerby are disarmingly pretty vignettes, both displaying the influence of Erik Satie. Satie and Debussy also haunt the beautiful Still Life With Kannyu, where the meandering piano is offset by subtle discord, and the unexpected eeriness of TangoLargo is a musical oxymoron that somehow works.

It is tempting to surmise that Selected Studies Vol.1 consists of Roedelius providing the definitively outré moments, tempered by the more ‘listenable’ melodicism courtesy of Cole’s pop sensibilities. But this is a lazy assumption to make. In fact, the long gestation period implies that this music is the result of a collaboration of two like minds. Cole has always been an eclectic sort whose magpie tendencies and sparky imagination were evident even in the lyrics of his earliest songs. Roedelius, of course, is known for being a boundary-pusher, and it is by no means beyond him to stray closer to traditional popular song structures in his quest to make something new. But however it came about, whoever made what noises, I hope there’s a Vol. 2 pretty soon.

Cole & Roedelius – Selected Studies Vol. 1 is released on 22nd February on Bureau B

Words: Thomas Blake