A duo of versatility and uncompromising musical output, Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk are no strangers to our ears. In the past fifteen years, the pair have gifted us with some of our most admired albums and collaborations, and neither seem to be letting up anytime soon.
Ulrich, whilst in the midst of releasing his latest opus, No Further Ahead Than Today, is also now a part of the legendary electronic outfit, Tangerine Dream. And whilst Jonas hasn't been as relentless with his output in the midst of his family time, he has still found the time to re-ignite the spark that saw their revered skills combine on 2010's self-titled production. It was an output that came together almost naturally, with both artists possessing that ethereal, melodic take on shoegaze inspired electronic music; one, a master of the synthesizer and the other, the guitar.
When asked what pulled them back into the studio, Jonas makes it clear they were destined to continue what they started."We've been working together for quite a long time now and I can't remember ever getting stuck with a piece or feeling uninspired during a session. There has always been a really good work flow, with things rolling naturally. So when we both had some available time in early 2014 we figured it might be a lot of fun to start something new". Ulrich continues, "I think we always had some kind of silent agreement that we'd eventually continue - sometimes it's really just a question of fitting it into the schedule somehow."
The new album, Passage came to life through a variety of sketches, originally ideated by Jonas in Odense, (listen to Jonas' isolatedmix dedicated to the sounds of his hometown), bringing them over to Ulrich's London studio, with the pair then obsessing until completion. This revisited dynamic seemed to be a welcome change for Jonas, who enjoyed Ulrich applying his magic to his original sketches amongst the wonderful cave of equipment and synthesizers adorning the studio; "Once there's a fundamental idea going Ulrich will be adding most of the synths and be in charge of effects processing and so on, and I'll add guitar parts and perhaps come up with suggestions sound or structure-wise", Jonas says. going on to elaborate how much he enjoyed those days in London with Ulrich: "I always find it very inspiring doing these daily 14 hour sessions, totally immersed, with nothing else on my mind. It's quite different from my work flow at home – I've got a family now, so I usually head to my studio after dropping off my kid in nursery, work for 6 hours, before rushing back to get on with daily life. In London it's all music, except for the occasional coffee or Indian food break".
With Jonas' signature guitar work and Ulrich's synchronization, chord manipulation and warming analog sounds, it's easy to point to a variety of influences on the sound emitted when their powers combine. This mutual respect for each others strengths made it easy to point towards specific ideas, with Jonas asking Ulrich, "could you try a really creamy early 1990s synth-pad in the intro" or "could we make this more new-agey in a vintage kinda way" or "This needs more Simple Minds". The response from Ulrich heard bouncing across his north east London studio: "Jonas: bring some Fleetwood Mac to this part, goddamnit!"
If you recall their earlier album, these inspirations would definitely ring true as a general theme throughout. With Passage however, it's a little harder to tell. The album is much more varied in approach, a purposeful result, as Ulrich mentions: "the 'method' actually, is to avoid developing one, and to capture the joy of recording without being tied to the framework of a certain concept instead - we keep surprising ourselves by what we end up writing. from my perspective we've managed to create a varied album that's not stuck in a particular genre - a piece that's inspired by 80s Californian New-age maybe followed by a slowed down tech-house groove, coupled with folky guitars".
Album opener Amaris (see the exclusive video by London based photographer and film maker Nat Urazmetova below) forms the bridge between the last album and Passage - featuring a recognizable Schnauss structure punctuated with Jonas' guitars. However the album quickly introduces other signature moments and structures. The more euphoric reverb of Intervention : Sol; the Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream influences on Intervention : Stjerner; the sparse drum-beats reminiscent of Joy Division (obviously not as gloomy) form the back-bone of MST, and the classic chord-step progressions we've come to enjoy from Ulrich transcend moments within Spellbreaker.
It's not all accidental euphoria though, as Ulrich describes,"the rather narcotic, somnambulist vibe of the song 'Anywhere But Here' is at least, to a degree, the result of my excessive aspirin consumption during the recordings. Now it's actually one of my favourites".
As Jonas goes on to describe the main differences between this album and the last, it's clear both he and Ulrich had fun building on an already perfected relationship, likely bringing in new ideas and energy from recent projects to form another unmissable piece of work. "Even though we deliberately stayed away from any overall concept, to my ears this album ended up with more of a laid-back vibe in general – compared to the more euphoric vibe of the self-titled album. Which is something I didn't really think about until very recently. It's like there's a mild breeze blowing through all of these tracks".
Simplified and unrestricted intentions undoubtedly bring out the best in these two.
Passage will be available through Jonas Munk's newly created Azure Vista Records, with pre-orders available on Bandcamp now.