We caught up with the trans-European outfit after their set at End of the Road Festival in September for an insight into the new musical and conceptual territory explored on their sophomore EP.
Words: Lloyd Bolton | Photo: Yolanda Mitchell & Joseph Barrett
With ‘Another Fact’, trans-European 9-piece The Umlauts nuance their playful brand, building depth and commentating on their place as a band. The sense of fun and immediacy felt on their debut ‘Ü’ EP still runs through insistent melodies and language barrier-breaking vocal lines, but these interact with a broader range of elements. Discussing the release at this year’s End of the Road, we considered the evolution of the group and their desire to do “so many things that we didn’t do before”.
The Umlauts have come a long way in this past year. The core of the group came together at art school and have created a singular form of multi-lingual dance pop, which shone on the floor-filling, lockdown-produced ‘Ü’ (2021). I first saw them at a showcase at The Old Blue Last in August that year, which they reckon was their third ever show. Although their early sets were not without the attendant chaos you might expect of such an unwieldy setup (several synths, two lead vocalists, violin…), the group found a new direction within them, built on a stronger sense of what The Umlauts was and how they could push its remit.
Today, their recorded output has blossomed into a much more full-bodied prospect. Speaking about ‘Non è Ancora’, the first single to be taken from ‘Another Fact’ back in May, their shared excitement for what it represented is still palpable. Its release as lead single represents an impressive confidence in the project and trust in their audience. Immediately, it eliminates the possibility of pigeonholing the group as a straightforward, good-time dance-pop act and asserts the new depth we find across ‘Another Fact’. The song is delightfully contradictory, its head-bopping rhythm and breathy vocals offset by the emotional depth carved out by the violin of Magdalena McLean.
Perhaps the most striking deviation from the debut EP is the newfound space in this tune, with particular sounds and instruments being spotlighted at different moments. This room shows up across the EP, starting with opener ‘The Quickening’, which minimally embellishes a field recording keyboardist Oliver Offord made in a German cathedral. Closer ‘Another Fact’ also profits from this dynamic range, with its range of bizarre hooks fading in and out of prominence to create what could almost be an exploded view of a track from ‘Ü’. ‘…Ancora’ was the tune they finished first for the EP, and Alf Lear (another keys player) suggests that it “set a tone”, establishing “a wider emotional landscape”. Lyricist Maria Vittoria Faldini concurs, adding that it “helped us find that balance between the playful and emotional that we’re trying to bring out”.
Though they are a fixture on London’s live scene and favourites on festival bills in the city and beyond, the band are hesitant to define themselves in terms of the city’s musical landscape. Faldini says they are “trying not to label ourselves” or “attach ourselves to one community”, something that their expansive setup also helps to resist. Offord adds that “with 9 members, we’re out own community”. The group have necessarily worked “in a bubble”, having developed both releases through the pandemic, and have found that to help “focus” their work, away from the noise of the rest of the city’s musical output.
The group’s art school origins further points to their idiosyncratic development and ownership of their outsider identity. The most universal lesson from this experience they seem to have gained is a willingness to experiment and an openness to unpredictable new elements. Co-frontperson Annabelle Mödlinger explains that it helps one “get comfortable with being a bit of an amateur and playing around a bit”. This liberated creativity seems to have fostered the new EP, a step into the unknown sonically and conceptually. The Slow Dance records folk have spoken about the concept of ‘post-club’ music, influenced by the experiences relating to clubbing but translated back to the band setup and other song frameworks. ‘Another Fact’ explores this territory and arguably goes furthest into it as a kind of self-critical dance music.
They report that Lear and Offord deliberately mixed ‘Another Fact’ to have the sound of a club from the street outside, the most definite step in this new direction and its spatial relation to the dancefloor. The band collectively roll their eyes at themselves being the latest band to cite the lockdowns as an influence, but theirs feels like a particularly pertinent engagement with this experience and what it meant to be a dance band in this time. Faldini points out that this ran into the lyricism and delivery on the EP. ‘The Commuter’ and ‘Frightened’ explore the experiences of a modern flâneur with ambivalent detachment, the latter building on the content of the Fall song of the same name (the track having begun life as a cover). Both portray the alienation and possibility for closeness represented by the city with a mix of nostalgic longing and trepidation. Closer ‘Another Fact’ perhaps rounds off this train of thought, building with a desperation that veers between joy and terror, coming out as what Mödlinger calls “a long panic attack”.
None of this is to say that The Umlauts have lost their instinct for fun. ‘Another Fact’ has plenty of this to offer – as their joyous End of the Road set demonstrated – but they are now evolving a deeper conceptual framework and band identity. This fabulous collection of thinking man’s floor fillers marks an incredible evolution in little over a year and cements The Umlauts’ reputation as an important and unique voice in the capital.