With Radiohead, Of Montreal, and countless others perfecting a dour, glitchy style of art-rock in the six years since the Notwist last surfaced, it’s not enough merely to pull a Reznor with your rhythm section and expect anyone to sit up and care. Fortunately, The Devil, You + Me shows that the Notwist been keeping their ears to the street and their asses in the studio since releasing 2002’s indie-synth breakthrough Neon Golden, which features the pop masterstroke “Pilot.” In the interim, the German group got sidetracked by 13 & God (a hookup with the experimental hip-hop outfit Themselves) and got very comfortable blurring the lines between computerized and organic sounds; consequently, this catchy collection of songs is destined for jukebox slots at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe—such great heights, to quote the more and more simplistic-sounding Postal Service.
Just to get the Ben Gibbard comparisons out of the way, Notwister Markus Acher’s fragile, oft-glum voice is indeed similar to the Death Cab frontman’s weepy warbles. Topic-wise, however, The Devil adheres to the less personal and more global throughout: The immediate jam here is the guitar-grinder “Good Lies,” in which Acher cryptically suggests, “Let’s just imitate the real [the reel?] until we find a better one.” Verily, the Notwist’s keyed-up imitations of “real” instruments are paired with live orchestral strings, xylophones, bass, drums, and guitars to create compositions that provide a cinematic reel of images from Acher’s scorched imagination. Although he sings in English, phrases like “I see the planet’s [planets?] spinning faster/Or is my body too slow/I don’t know” can seem lost in translation. The remnants of Depeche Mode (“On Planet Off”), Nick Drake (“Gone Gone Gone”), and OK Computer (pretty much every track) scattered throughout, however, will ring through loud and clear.