All the luxuriant and sensuous curves that went missing on 2005’s Geisterfaust have returned for Bohren’s newest record. More than that, the band have sharpened their approach to “doom jazz” and solidified the power of their slow, crushing attack in the process.
Geisterfaust wasn’t necessarily a misstep, but it wasn’t as satisfying as the rest of Bohren’s discography. Fans were bound to be a little disappointed by its naked character: I understand that the band loves to use a minimum of instruments to craft their music, but Geisterfaust gave new meanings to the words “glacial” and “minimal.” It only takes a minute for things to get moving on Dolores. Gone are the dry, somewhat pointless progressions exhibited on Geisterfaust; they’ve been replaced by a lush and more resonant approach that suits the band’s music far better. “Staub” opens the record and in just a short time the band introduces a steady rhythm, a bass-heavy atmosphere, and the familiar sound of a rhodes to the record. It may seem silly to talk about Bohren in terms of quickness and movement, but the band wastes no time on Dolores. Only one song surpasses the eight-minute mark and most of them are five to six minutes in length. The music’s pace is, as always, slow, but the music is more concise and packed more tightly with energy. It doesn’t take a 20-minute epic to make each thumping bass drum and every chord change a momentous occasion; Bohren & Der Club of Gore prove that by casting each of their movements in a dramatic light.
The sexy, somewhat slinky aesthetic they’ve carried with them since Gore Motel is still present and all the comparisons to Angelo Badalamenti still make a good deal of a sense, but it has been suggested that Dolores is somehow brighter than everything else in the band’s discography. I’ve read other reviews that suggest the band is somehow “opening the blinds” and casting out a bit of the doom and gloom for which they’re so famous. It seems to me that this is an illusion generated by the way the songs are arranged. For instance, both “Unkerich” and “Still Am Tressen” feature the kind of saxophone playing expected in a black and white film about a lonely detective. There are fleeting moments of major progressions that sound almost hopeful, but both songs are drenched in impenetrable loneliness. Beneath the surface of these “brighter” songs are lurking suspicions and hazy motives. It is always raining in Bohren’s world, there’s always danger looming around the corner, and every moving shadow is a reason to stay alert. Whatever light manages to make its way onto this record is quickly snuffed out by cavernous echoes and cheerless drones. Even “Von Schnabel,” a simple and sweet song led by the vibraharp, is tainted by ominous tones and uneasy atmospherics. The illusion of brightness comes through on this record because the band provides an illusion of safety and hope. It’s a bit sadistic, really; the band lets joy into their world only to crush it and bury it.
In short, Dolores is something of a return to form; at the very least it’s a return to the sound that made Bohren a band loved by so many. The writing is more dynamic this time around, but also more to the point. The cinematic aspects of the music are not gone, but the band does seem more concerned with song-craft than pure atmosphere. I haven’t heard this much movement from them since Gore Motel, but this record is filled with more nuance and subtlety than that one.