Taken from the alum 'Goodbye'.
How to describe Ulrich Schnauss's music? Let's see. It's shoegazing heroes. Slowdive headlining a rave. It's krautrock plunging headlong into the celestial raptures of the Cocteau Twins. It's U2 if Brian Eno had ousted Bono and commandeered the band in 1985. It's Balearic with a view of the Baltic instead of the Mediterranean. It's art-techno for the heart as well as the head. It's stadium chillout, as immense as a festival field and as intimate as a bedroom. It's celebration and catharsis. It's vapour trails and meteor showers. And it's very, very good.
So far, the quietly spoken German who creates this music has operated beneath the radar. His first two albums, 2001's Far Away Trains Passing By and 2003's A Strangely Isolated Place, worked their way into record collections by stealth. People heard tracks played by Rob Da Bank or Tom Middleton, or chanced upon him on stage at the Big Chill or Bestival, or heard about him from friends. However they discovered him, they were hooked. XFM's Lauren Laverne called A Strangely Isolated Place "a life changer everyone I have forced to buy it loves it."
Ulrich's third album, Goodbye, is his first for Independiente. It is also the end of a chapter in his sound. "I see these three albums as moving closer to something I wanted to do right from the beginning but didn't quite manage," he says. "Merging songwriting and indie elements with electronic music. I've tried to take all the ideas to the maximum."
So the ambient tracks are more spacious, the songs more memorable, the multi-layered, guitar-heavy tracks more ragingly psychedelic. Just listen to the obliterating rush of Medusa, or the cloudbusting dream-pop of Stars (performed by long-time collaborator Judith Beck). At times, there are over 100 different audio tracks playing simultaneously: a tower of song. No wonder Goodbye has taken three solid years of in the studio.
If Ulrich hailed from somewhere less boring, things might have been different. Fortunately, he was born in 1977 in Kiel, an unprepossessing city on Germany's Baltic coast best known for its naval base. It seemed to the young Ulrich as if everything important was happening elsewhere.
He explains, "I was talking to Andrew Sherriff from Chapterhouse and he told me that being from Reading had a significant influence because the place was so shit that you had to create beautiful music to get out of that state of mind. I'd say the same thing for me. Kiel is probably the most boring, ugly place in the world. The whole city is grey concrete. Places like that inspire you to create something that elevates you out of reality for a few minutes."
Bands didn't tend to play in Kiel, but at least the NME arrived regularly at the train station, albeit four weeks late, and the british forces radio station was good. Around 1990, Ulrich discovered electronic music and shoegazing simultaneously: the Orb alongside My Bloody Valentine, 808 State next to Ride, Shades Of Rhythm beside Slowdive. He also followed up every artist namechecked by LFO in their 1991 single What Is House?: Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, YMO His core ideas about music were forged there and then.
"For me that was the magic of those days," he says. "You couldn't say if a band was electronic or rock. I'm not interested in purist ideas. I like it when things you don't expect merge and mix and something new comes out of it."
And because he never got to see his heroes in the flesh, they maintained an aura of mystery and wonder. "You make up your own idea of how things are. For me that whole early '90s scene was something I imagined, like a fairy tale - an alternative reality to what I was experiencing."
Ulrich worked as a psychiatric nurse as part of his national service. After that, he moved to Berlin, where he tried in vain to become accepted by the electronic scene. "I felt really isolated. I desperately tried to integrate but it just didn't work. I was trying to marry what I wanted to do with what was trendy at the time and I always ended up with a foul compromise. So I thought I might as well do what I want to do."
After a few years of watered down, pseudonymous productions which he'd rather you didn't seek out, Ulrich released Far Away Trains Passing By on the dauntingly hip City Centre Offices label. He was amazed they even wanted to release it; more amazed still when it became a cult success. With its abundant charm and unabashed optimism, it was the most pleasantly surprising electronic debut since Boards of Canada's Music Has The Right To Children.
Its more rock-influenced successor, A Strangely Isolated Place, received an even warmer response, from critics and other musicians alike. It led to Ulrich remixing some of his shoegazing heroes (Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell of Slowdive, and Mark Gardener of Ride), as well as Depeche Mode, Justin Robertson, Lunz (Hans-Joachim Roedelius), and Longview.
Tired of the Berlin scene, Ulrich moved back to Kiel to make Goodbye. Most of his schoolfriends had moved away, so he didn't have to worry about distractions. His last two album titles spoke of isolation, but was that the pain of enforced loneliness or the comfort of voluntary solitude? Goodbye is equally ambivalent. "Emotionally, I find farewell situations interesting," he says. "Saying goodbye can be tragic or hopeful."
Like its predecessors, Goodbye constructs its own world, vast and vivid. When he's making music, Ulrich sees colours: one song might be red, another blue. Next time, he wants to "record an album based on more traditional electronic music structures - which could enable me to merge all these different influences beyond recognition". Meanwhile, this is the album he's been moving towards for over a decade: a sonic tour de force, an alternative reality, a life-changer.