26 September 2023

Twang Machine

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Reviewed by Ian Phillips.

By The Routes, Topsy turvy Records/Dirty Water Records 2022.

Japanese trio The Routes have been making waves in the music scene since at least 2011 when they released Alligator, a classic piece of garage punk.

They followed up by delving into fuzzed up psych-rock with In This Perfect Hell, which maintained the garage rock energy but moved the production qualities up a notch or two.

Recently they’ve produced a series of instrumental albums released on Groovie Records and Twang Machine continues this trend but with a difference.

Twang Machine is an album of Kraftwerk covers, which is a substantial diversion from their usual territory, but they have put their own spin on them.

Kraftwerk were electronic music pioneers from Germany.

They formed back in the late 1960s and are considered one of the most important and influential bands of all time.

Their instruments of choice were keyboards, drum machines, and synths so a guitar-based band taking on the task of covering their music is quite a challenge, but nothing that The Routes can’t handle.

They’ve dished up an album of twangy surf-rock that simultaneously sounds straight out of the sixties and somehow completely contemporary.

It’s strange to hear Kraftwerk’s moody synth driven dance floor vibes turned into twangy surf-rock pop songs.

The melodies are familiar but the sounds are completely alien.

They play many of the songs at a faster tempo than the originals with the lead guitar taking the place of the vocals.

Computer Love and Trans Europe Express become up-tempo, Ventures inspired, surf tracks and Showroom Dummies becomes a spaghetti western.

Not everything is played at breakneck pace.

Tour de France and Neon Lights dial the speed back to be much closer to Kraftwerk’s originals, at least in tempo even if the sounds differ.

The Routes are very good musicians and their re-working of Kraftwerk’s songs pays homage to the originals while at the same time making them their own.

Vocal melodies become guitar lines, signature riffs become repeating motifs, crashing drum solos replace musical shifts and songs are inverted but the finished pieces are still true to Kraftwerk’s genius.

This album is a delightful reminder of my youth – Kraftwerk and surf-rock.

I almost feel young.

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