Over 25 years have passed since Kraftwerk released Autobahn, an album of robot rock fueled by synthetic beats so unusual, their impact is still being felt today. While rumors of a new Kraftwerk record abound, the German electro scene marches onward with Frankfurt's Sven Vath and Bad Nauheim's Anthony Rother, two suitable heirs, leading the charge.
One listen to the cascading synthesizers and repetitive percussive strokes on Vath's latest album, Contact, and you'll hear echoes of '70s electro, specifically Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. "Ein Waggon Voller Geschicten" even resembles Kraftwerk's "Tour de France" with its simple, stark production and metallic electronic noises, which sound like a bicycle chain circulating through its crank. "Pathfinder," "Ydolem," "Once More," and "Agent P.," the tracks produced by Anthony Rother, stand out for the way their mechanical rhythms coalesce into something that sounds like music from a sci-fi soundtrack. Vath's thick accent (he could pass for Arnold Schwarzenegger) gives songs such as "Pathfinder," in which he sings pseudophilosophical lines such as "Things are always changing/Feel like it's all right," and "Apricot" an unintentional campy feel. Ultimately, he's better off not singing and letting his pulsating beats do the work.
As if to prove he's not just a producer, Rother, who in the past has worked with British DJ Dave Clarke, makes a promising debut with his first full-length, Simulationszeitalter (Age of Simulation). The album opens with the sparse sounds of humming equipment as a woman speaks over an intercom in "Databank/Nuklearer Winter." Vocals are used sparingly on the record, but when they are used, like in "Genstruktur," on which a muffled voice barks guttural phrases in German, they give the music the ominous tone to which Vath aspires, but for the most part fails to deliver, on his record. The minimalist tracks on Simulationszeitalter are hit-or-miss -- "Biomechanik," which features the brilliant use of a vocoder, succeeds in building momentum, whereas "65 Million Jahre" just trickles tirelessly on. Despite their shortcomings, Simulationszeitalter and Contact are strong enough to suggest that the German electro revolution isn't over yet -- with or without a new Kraftwerk album.