“Here comes the cold,” Stella Sommer sings gravely, surrounded only by an ominous organ.
“Die Kälte”, the first song of her new album “Pop & Tod I+II”, really sounds cold and cavernous. But behind Sommer’s voice and despite the lyrics, there is still some human warmth. The singer from Hamburg is the frontwoman of Die Heiterkeit, a very emotional pop band.
But don’t let the word “emotional” scare you off. Far from being touchy-feely or sadly expressing teen angst, Sommer’s singing feels somewhat detached, her voice estranged from the situations she sings about. The compositions of “Pop & Tod I+II”, the latest offering from Die Heiterkeit and a vaguely melancholic concept double album, evoke these situations without really explaining them beyond some key words.
“Betrüge mich gut” and the title track somehow revolve around lost love; “Große Namen” talks about grandeur in rather general terms; “Haus außerhalb” seems to evoke a very personal past that has something to do with alienation and forgiveness, but never gives a context or reasons for the two processes. The emotions Sommer stirs up are often open to interpretation, which makes Die Heiterkeit a challenging, but equally open listen.
This is true as well for the music accompanying the lyrics. Sommer’s band consists of two singers, one of which is Oracles’ Hanitra Wagner, and Philipp Wulf of the band Messer on drums.
The classic line-up – guitar, bass, keys and drums – creates a sound that is split between pop melodies, toned-down rock crescendos (and a shoegaze outburst on “Komm mich besuchen”) and a texture recalling the xx’ minimalistic, ethereal dream pop. Add to this the singing of Sommer and her co-singers which oscillates between sacral and chanson-like and you get a mixture that, after hearing, leaves you wondering about what you feel.
In some points, the tender and glorious melancholy resembles Cat Power or Element of Crime, one of the few German bands you could actually classify as “chanson”. Die Heiterkeit too play some kind of “Berlin blues” that betrays their name – “Heiterkeit” means “exhilaration”.
But their vagueness in combination with the emotionality of their songs creates an immersion that goes beyond that of their forebears.
Photo: Malte HM Spindler