Reliably catchy Voxtrot has this wonderful song, which caught my eye as I was cleaning out my music library because I was in Berlin last weekend. It’s just great, really: spreading intensities and swirling dramas, multi-instrumental building and a lingering conclusion.
Like the city of Berlin itself, a glorious, expansive, gritty, mysterious, amusing, delightful, sexy, intimidating city. Of course no single song can encapsulate such a place and such an experience. (Go to Berlin! Stay up all night! Eat a kebab at 6 AM on the U-bahn!)
But if I were to try, and because I’m a sucker for city names in song titles, “Berlin, Without Return” will have to do. It starts slow, but sinks in and stays with you. That moving bass, the German dialoge at the opening, and Ramesh Srivastava’s smooth whispery vocals, and the repeated “What do you know?” pushes you towards the possibility of something you can’t yet name.
As an unexpected postscript, I tragically learned that Voxtrot actually broke up in spring 2010, and in the farewell letter published on the band’s website, frontman Ramesh Srivastava makes a reference to Peter Falk’s glass eye. Peter Falk plays a crucial role in what is surely one of the best Berlin films of all time, Wim Wenders’ Der Himmel Uber Berlin (Wings of Desire). Predating this breakup, Srivastava had relocated to Berlin. Which fueled a lot of melodramatic romantic speculation about the origins of this song, at least in my mind.
But maybe it’s just that Berlin, and songs about Berlin, are perfect for exactly that kind of romantic, dramatic, lushly musical imagination. Voxtrot, ich liebe dich.
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