To Rococo Rot & I-Sound
Pantone EP






Music Is A Hungry Ghost of 2001 is one of To Rococo Rot's intriguing albums that merge the modern lifestyle of big cities with the majestic shelter-giving warmth of acoustic guitars, creating an intimate room full of catchy vignettes. Instead of memorable melodies, the listener encounters the memorable intercourse of the various synth textures and organic traits of string instruments. The mixture is perfect, the German trio never risks being too artificial or too kitschy. Brothers Robert & Ronald Lippok, Stefan Schneider and the New York-based DJ I-Sound aka Craig Willingham created a glinting gem that is not all too easily accessible despite its immediate qualities. It took me a long time to finally succumb to the beauty, as stated in my review of the album mentioned above. By the time I discovered the Pantone EP, I was already a big fan of its foil and grew more accustomed to the band's style. The EP presents five tracks, two of them remixes or alternative takes of their album material, while the remaining three offerings are either deliberate B-side tracks or archival footage. Spoiler ahead: I cannot recommend the EP as a whole, despite my glowing and growing love for it. The reasons are perfectly objective as you will see over the course of the review. However, there is one composition that outshines the majority of the band's whole back catalogue, followed by a splendid second contender on the same EP, so there must be something valuable presented in the end, no?

Pantone EP fittingly launches with Pantone (Red), the first of two songs that are taken off Music Is A Hungry Ghost. Presented in a slightly longer version here, the red incarnation of Pantone does not add anything spectacularly new to the album version, but is more of an extended mix in the tradition of the late 80's and early 90's when artists remixed themselves and provided new cuts with additional ornaments or intermissions instead of handing the task over to a prospering community of laptop musicians and bedroom producers. Both Pantone tracks start with the gelid glockenspiel melody that could also derive from a high-pitched piano, and the warbled warmth of two layers staccato synth stab layers. The mellowly droning bass guitar accentuations are still intact, as are the mellifluous acoustic guitar twangs and the clicking percussion. So where is the real difference of Pantone (Red)? I spot three instances of divergence: firstly, the additional runtime of 60 seconds. Secondly, the admixed glockenspiel melody that is interwoven in the final minute. Lastly, the crunchier percussion that is put to the forefront. It is not even a matter of taste, both arrangements succeed in delivering waves of lushness. But they are enormously similar to each other. The second song is another well-known take: The Trance Of Travel (Gets) is featured in a version that is yet again the next of kin to the original album version. In my review of that album, I mentioned the "sleazy funk rhythm [and] a gorgeously catchy filtered two-note melody whose sustain merges with the silent background. There is not much else to this song despite a few additional percussive clicks and cowbells, convivial stereo-panned sound effects and a very short guitar intersection." And so it happens on the EP as well, for there is only one key difference to be found that is related to the accentuating synth pad melody, which is again more upfront and perceptible than on the album version where an additional filter crushes the pads ever so slightly. And that's about it. Much ado about nothing. Both arrangements are great in each incarnation, and at least Pantone can be easily counted to the Ambient genre.

Now we are approaching the material that did not make it onto
Music Is A Hungry Ghost, but those takes are nonetheless highly intriguing. The three minutes long Brett Zwei (Plus) definitely belongs to this group, with its attractive breakbeat, the mildly pulsating and blurred synth streams that gleam in vivacious colors and the concoction of To Rococo Rot's signature guitar twangs with slightly crisper brethren. The melodies are rudimentary as usual, since it is all about the textures. Galactic sine pitches, mild-mannered static noise fragments and radio frequencies round off this good piece, implicating the long tradition in music history of superb B-side material, regardless of the band or the genre. The following I Wanted To Meet Him does not belong to this category, for its quirkily robotic 8-bit groove with muffled hi hats, cacophonous laser effects and blurry bass drops unchains a hectic tension. There are scattered strings of warmth included, for example the balmy monotony of guitar licks plus fantastically filtered Deep House synths, but they are too scarce to outshine the strange beats. The beauty is definitely apparent, but it is not enough to make this a graceful track. The coziness destroys the quirkiness, and vice versa. An indecisive cut. The final Fishermen dressed like Joseph Beuys takes the cake, though, as it delivers a magnificently soothing electro-acoustic ambience full of beautifully stereo-panned and sun-soaked guitar licks, zipper-like noise fragments and sugary sirens. That is the description in a nutshell, as not much is going on in the first place. However, this assumption would be wrong, for the signature attribute of this song has the word organic all over it and actually pulsates along in a natural way. If there are loops involved, they are perfectly camouflaged, as the arrangement is engineered in such a way that it simulates a laid-back jam session. One of my top 3 tracks by the band, utterly enchanting, exceptionally warm… and in the end, it is not much more than a B-side. Unbelievable!

To Rococo Rot's
Pantone EP is one of those EP's that captures the spirit of long-lost times, even back in 2001. The band remixes itself twice or, to reword this assertion, offers a view to the two versions that did not make it  to the album for whatever reasons, although the included takes on this EP are admittedly way too similar to their album relatives to really offer an insightful glimpse into the band's working process. Viewed from this angle, Pantone (Red) and The Trance Of Travel (Gets) disappoint, as you have to wear your monocle in order to spot the little differing particles. On the plus side is the general euphony and catchiness of these pieces, but in the end, the room of the EP feels wasted for such small changes. Despite the rare dud I Wanted To Meet Him, the EP succeeds with Brett Zwei (Plus) which delivers a gently melting synth syrup regardless of its stomping breakbeats, and the phantasmagoric Fishermen Dressed Like Joseph Beuys with its serene and rapturous guitar interplay. You can feel the sun in this song, although the implied breeze is missing. It is one of my most favorite To Rococo Rot pieces and a stellar example of their power to create coziness with the sole help of guitars. This is no bonfire ditty for badgers, but a welcome Sunday afternoon hammock theme for rascals. I am aware of my overly auroral view in terms of this EP, so I cannot recommend it as a whole. If you do not know much about the band, this is a splendid starting point. If you are a cherry-picker, go for Fishermen, Pantone (Red) and Brett Zwei (Plus), and enjoy. To my knowledge, the EP is not available on iTunes or Amazon at the time of writing this review, and even or Spotify do not have the necessary license to include it, but I hope that things will improve in the long run.




Ambient Review 170: To Rococo Rot – Pantone EP (2001). Originally published on Jan. 16, 2013 at