I wrote this piece about three months ago and sent it somewhere, admittedly on spec, to be published, but they never did. I’ve felt bad ever since for having got the record for free, so here’s the review anyway, a little belated. It’s a good record; you might like it.
Influence is a tricky and contentious word in music. “Influenced by” and “sounds like”, contrary to popular opinion, don’t actually mean the same thing. Thus who an artist identifies as influences on any given album or song may not necessarily translate as the musical lineages you as a listener think you hear in the sonic soup, no matter how wide and systematic your knowledge of music. So an indie band may namecheck Frank Zappa or Shudder To Think, having been consciously listening to those artists in the studio and attempting to interpolate certain ideas or approaches from them into their own music, but there is absolutely no guarantee that anyone listening will notice, and the result may be scorn and incredulity poured on the artists for attempting to gain credibility by dropping slightly leftfield names as influences.
Likewise a listener, even, heaven forefend, a reviewer, may be utterly convinced that they can hear a reference to Pachelbel’s canon in d in the chord structure of a certain song by a certain artists, may be certain that a key reason for the existence of the new song is as some kind of tribute to or recreation of canon in d, while the artist in question may never have thought of Pachelbel in their life, the chord sequence being the result of strange serendipity or subconscious appropriation (which I guess is another kind of influence, albeit a different kind). Or perhaps a band writes a new song by jamming around on the chords of something incongruous like Nena’s “99 Luftballoons” or Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, throws an entirely new melody and lyric and a radically different arrangement over the top, and no one hearing the new song ever has a clue as to its provenance. These things happen all the time. There are only so many notes, so many chords, so many ways to put them together.
Sometimes though, an artist makes it really obvious. Sometimes you can tell almost exactly what a record will sound like just by looking at the cover and reading the song titles. Keep Warm… with the Warm Digits is just such a record. The sleeve is printed to look old and worn, with fake creases, crumples, and fading colours lending the geometric rainbow of lines and curves an authentic air of early 70s German technological hippiedom. With a cover like this, it can only be a krautrock record. Then you turn it over and see that songs are called things like “Trans-Pennine Express” and “Here Come The Warm Digits”, and if you hadn’t already nailed Kraftwerk, Neu!, Eno, and Harmonia as influences then you surely couldn’t fail to now.
And sure enough, when you drop the needle or press play or shake your phone in the air (or whatever it is kids do to start listening to music these days), you’re greeted by an analogue synthesiser wheeze and a collapsing tower of drums, which disintegrates and coalesces back into a metronomic pulse and layers of melodic fuzz which are the very embodiment of the epithet “repetition is a form of change”.
This is anything but a cold and computerised record, though; if the punning song titles weren’t enough evidence, The Warm Digits’ human warmth and sense of humour is expressed by drums which are a touch more swinging and less robotic than one might expect, and by a series of major-key melodies and chord changes which, though they still paint images of 70s European kids TV dramas about the sons of businessmen being kidnapped and driven across the Alps in my mind, do so with a wonderfully energised sense of naivety and excitement rather than the desolate melancholy of being alone in a foreign land. If that makes sense.
The friend who alerted me to this record described it as being a bit “Fisher Price – My First Krautrock Album”, but emphasised that this was far, far from being a bad thing, and I’m inclined to agree. Though I have an armful of records by Cluster and CAN and Tangerine Dream, plus modern reference points like Lindstrom, Emeralds, and M83, enough to ask why I’d want to listen to anything as clearly and happily derivative as The Warm Digits, there’s enormous pleasure to be derived from hearing these kinds of sounds rearranged and made new yet again. Andrew Hodgeson and Steve Jeffries, the producer and electronica-guy duo who are The Warm Digits, may not have hit upon any kind of newness or innovation here, but I’m pretty sure that was never their intention, and they’ve created something enormously enjoyable nonetheless.