The Days Within
The first album by Vert aka Adam Butler, The Köln Konzert, appeared in 1999 on sonig, the Cologne institution for nonlinear electronic music. In the years that followed, he left his mark on the experimental electronic scene and defined his own complex sound language, culminating in his fourth album, Some Beans & an Octopus (2006), on which he beautifully balanced pop-influenced songwriting and experimentation. After its release, Butler shocked everyone by announcing the end of his work as a musician. Now, in 2015, nine years after Some Beans & an Octopus, Vert is back with The Days Within. The songwriting here is unmistakably Vert, but Butler doesn't like to use the same idea twice. His signature as a songwriter and producer is more recognizable by atmosphere than by harmonies and hooks, mixing melancholy, sophisticated arrangement, densely woven sounds, delicate irony, and surprises. On "Bury Yourself," the listener hears clattering percussion and a host of apparently incidental sound events alongside a loose, catchy vocal melody and an effervescent synth line play. The main atmosphere is dark, and Butler's voice has a smoky patina. "Dog Days" begins with noisy Morse code and intermittent, lugubrious harmonium chords; the ensuing composition is so masterful it would probably work just as well with only a piano and vocal. Each of the many hisses, rattles, and beeps that swarm around "I Run the Waves" seems to have a life of its own. Everything is out of place, yet everything fits together. The macabre "Like a Rose" takes the listener to a dive bar where Kurt Weill sits at the piano surrounded by drunken prostitutes. And so it goes on. No two tracks are alike, but it all fits together. Maybe it's the slightly ironic vocals that always wobble through the haunting melodies. The poignantly simple strings. Or the nervous rasping in the background. Hardly a track on The Days Within is wholly unambiguous; everything seems ambivalent and unknowable. Soft strings and beautiful vocal melodies speak a different language from the unsettling hisses and the rumbling bass that lurk behind them. The songs that seem at first glance harmless are the ones that threaten to slide into the abyss. It's as if Butler, the experienced producer and master of the complex arrangement, is speaking several languages at once. As if ghosts, both past and future, whisper their subtexts behind the beautifully woven arras of every song.