Die Gruppe

BB 372LP BB 372LP

LP version. Terrible times indeed. Discerning pop music fans will therefore be more than pleased that intellectual rock darlings, Austrian band Ja, Panik, are back after a seven-year hiatus. This comes as somewhat of a surprise, given that in their 2016 band autobiography Futur II -- published to mark their tenth anniversary -- the Berlin-based quartet of Andreas Spechtl (vocals, guitar), Stefan Pabst (bass), Sebastian Janata (drums), and Laura Landergott (keyboards & guitar), pretty much announced their permanent dissolution. Never ones to repeat themselves, the eponymously titled Die Gruppe demonstrates that the four band members have been busy honing their craft, producing a sixth album that reveals a new level of artistic maturity. The eleven songs on the album were recorded during the summer pandemic lockdown of 2020, which the band spent in their home region of Burgenland. The curfew issued by the Austrian government meant that band had to hole up in their makeshift studio, working on the material that Andreas Spechtl, singer and songwriter, had demoed earlier in the year while staying in Tunisia. The pandemic restrictions also meant that Die Gruppe was their first work to be self-produced. On the Spacemen 3-tinged tune "The Cure", Spechtl's German-English plea to his doctor for help now sounds like it was tailor-made for these challenging times. Unambiguous, however, is the ghost of the late cultural critic and chief hauntologist Mark Fisher, who looms large over Die Gruppe. Other literary allusions include hidden references to Medea Material by East German playwright Heiner Müller, or to Donna Haraway's book Staying with the Trouble. Spechtl also churns out great pop songs if he pleases. "On Livestream" is a case in point: a quintessential Ja, Panik tune, this infectious pop song about how our communication has now shifted to video conferencing incorporating a plethora of lush production effects. "1998" is an atmospheric ballad with Spechtl in semi-autobiographical mode. Other tracks like "What If" and "The Zing of Silence" show off the experimental, electronic side of Ja, Panik and act as interludes between the songs proper. Die Gruppe is not merely a collection of tunes but a finely-crafted album that draws its captivating qualities from the unfolding dramaturgy of the songs, the interplay between the German and English language, and the effort to deviate from well-trodden paths in each and every song in terms of both writing and production.