Somewhere at the very centre of Pete Namlook’s almost countless collection of diverse collaborations are his 26…count them…a staggering 26 albums with Move D (a.k.a. David Moufang). That’s some 23 albums in the Move D – Namlook series and three Koolfang albums, exploring a fusion of electronic music and jazz.
Wagon Lits, the ninth in their Move D – Namlook series, its title taken from the sleeping cars found on European trains, is arguably amongst their very best. Electronic music based on a train journey…those of you not already in possession of the album may be thinking that this is hardly a new theme for a piece of electronic music. Conrad Schnitzler’s Zug (recorded in 1973 and probably most widely heard as part of his 1978 album Con a.k.a. Ballet Statique) presented skittering rhythms and jet black smudges of menacing sound to suggest a train in motion and then we inevitably move on to Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, which needs little further description here.
So what can Wagon Lits possibly offer that we haven’t heard before? Part of the genius of this record can be found in its understatement. Whilst both of the aforementioned pieces of music use rhythm as a prominent device to suggest a train in motion the bulk of the music on this recording backgrounds the rhythms, and in doing so creates a clever, rather ethereal feel. During train travel a drone-like hum is perhaps much louder than the actual sound of metal and metal and that is exactly what we hear here.
The opening track Accueil (Welcome) spells out the mood of the album with its spacey, undulating and appealingly spooky drone, punctuated by swells of warped organ-like sound. This train journey it is going to be dark (in more ways than one), surreal and mysterious. A number of Move D and Namlook’s greatest moments together drift off across the cosmos (the Space & Time album, Sea of Holes from Let the Circle Not Be Broken and Taygete spring readily to mind) and the opening stretch of this record strongly suggests, not incorrectly, that Wagon Lits will sit amongst the duo’s finest cosmic classics.
The record’s second track, Voiture 21 (Wagon 21), takes us off into half wakeful, terrains of the weird, as several sehr kosmische layered drones seem to waver, like dark matter, stretching and bending the fabric of the universe. Electronics tweet, like stars in the night sky and a very subtle, rhythmic pattering suggests that the train is almost gliding over the tracks. There is little of the heavy metal kling klang of Kraftwerk’s vintage trans-European offering here. As the track progresses Namlook solos on what sounds rather like a Moog, and each fleeting electronic adornment seems to be designed to add motion to this slightly eerie journey into the strange and unknown.
Voiture 22 continues the ride with a strange, moderately metallic cloud of fine space dust, gently jangling percolating rattles and squelchy sounds. Where is this train bound for? The frozen wastelands of Siberia? ...or Andromeda, perhaps? As the rhythm intensifies, now sounding like a heavy heartbeat two cosmic conductors arrive to check the tickets. Who could these men be? No plot spoilers can be given to members of the Fax fraternity not already in possession of this CD but their electronically-treated spoken interjections are a welcome and rather amusing ingredient in the mix.
Voiture 23 brings this 38-minute journey to its conclusion with great swells of synth sound, a few samples of sci-fi dialogue, manipulated so that they hiss and fizz (a thematic thread linking many of the later Move D - Namlook collaborations) and some discordant jazzy piano taking us to the fade.
Lastec, the final track on the album, clocking in at just over 20 minutes seems to take the listener on another train journey. This time a deep, relentless distorted bass line and a very gentle techno rhythm give some motion to an icy, haunting, yet rather beautiful voyage. This is a cold trip across frozen and forbidding landscapes under the partial light of dawn, both glacial and compelling. The rhythms here gradually become much stronger than those presented on the Voiture tracks and Pete and David seem to have fun manipulating, adding and subtracting to the layered beats and other sounds. During the last five minutes or so the album skates in to trance territory and wouldn’t sound out of place on the dancefloor of a techno club.
This unusual but always engrossing album is an absolute gem in the Fax catalogue. A real must and the cover ain't bad, either.