Von Spar - NBHAP

Artwork by Stefan Ibrahim

At the end of October, I reserved a long awaited parcel. In that square shaped carton, ironically another square shaped carton. White, flat, with big red letters. When I started to share that jewel with friends I noticed nearly the same reaction, again and again.

Within the first 30 seconds, when those dry drums meet some crystal clear strings which get underlayed by a warm house music like piano everyone asked, what the hell that catchy tune is. What comes afterwards isn’t just catchy, but surprisingly ambitious as well and leaves much excitement behind. These attention-gathering 30 seconds, I described here, are the intro of the song Chain of Command by VON SPAR. What follows afterwards is their new stunning album StreetLife, which is from experience, once placed on your turntable, surely not stopped until the last song is over.

With their fourth longplayer, the Cologne-based band incidentally released one of the best albums of 2014. Since their first release in 2003, a nice 12” vinyl on german electronica and pop label ‘L’Age D’Or’, these fine young gentlemen regularly appear somewhere at the edge of experimental and kraut influenced electronic sounds just to disappear the same way until their next release. Being friends with bands like PTTRNS and formerly involved in different projects like URLAUB IN POLEN, the four members are old hands in Germany’s independent music scene. StreetLife, their newest one is once more an unbelievable eclectic and well produced masterpiece, that also could be able to gain the attention of a broader audience.

It’s a fact that StreetLife (again) brings another sound, but soon you see this band doesn’t agree with those reinvention myths, that music journalism far too often construes in a band’s new record. A closer look on VON SPAR‘s releases reveals different styles, different labels and sometimes different musicians as well. Speaking about such changes, drummer Jan Philip Janzen relativizes: ‘Since you’re always a music listener, when you’re a musician, you get in touch with contemporary pop music as a matter of routine. Of course you can straightly work with a strict sound concept, but that’s not our cup of tea. So finally, these chameleon-like changes are as ordinary as the change of listening habits as a music listener.’

With this in mind, it becomes obvious that reinvention has never been the band’s goal; it’s simply the nature of this group of musicians. Sebastian Blume, responsible for the earlier noticed piano line and most of the keys in the band, adds: ‘I think it’s the heterogeneity of us four characters. Bringing in different things, different views and a different weight of the elements. That’s the reason why we make music for such a long time.’

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Chris Cummings - NBHAP

Chris A. Cummings
aka Marker Startling
fka Mantler
Artwork by Stefan Ibrahim


When it comes to talking about every members influences on the recording and writing process, the special situation about the vocal parts is necessarily mentionable. Well-known for their up to 20 minute long experimental instrumental pieces, the band embedded some shiny vocals on StreetLife. Four of the eight tracks become pretty special through fellow musician Chris A. Cummings who took part as a guest singer. Cummings, currently working under the name Marker Starling, has formerly released four albums as Mantler. The Toronto, Canada based modern chansonnier, with the look of an old-fashioned solo entertainer plays his little sad, but truly wonderful songs on a Wurlitzer Piano, accompanied by an old drum machine.

On StreetLife he turns into a crooning soulful vocalist, giving VON SPAR‘s songs a unique touch, that works in a surprisingly homogeneous way. Cummings’ vocals never sound like a bonus or a subsequently added part. If you listen to songs like Breaking Formation, it’s hard to believe, that he isn’t a current band member. Another highlight is Try Though We Might, when Cummings touches falsetto-like the greatness of Robert Wyatt.

‘We are huge fans of his work, so he had 100% artistic freedom. We sent him some material and he wrote everything, lyrics, the melodies. It was so straightforwardly’ describes Janzen. For the shows of their November tour, VON SPAR even brought Cummings as special support act, played partly his songs as a backing band as well as having him as the vocal part of their new songs. Further lyrics and vocals, namely the song V.S.O.P. come from no one else than Emma Louise Niblett, better known as Scout Niblett.

Between these classic song structures, the band once more creates stunning sound scapes somewhere between electronica, synthpop and indeed with that special kind of meandering ‘krautrock’ flavour. Deep and possessing without getting exuberant as well as pleasing and feather light without becoming trivial. When the needle finally runs the last record groove, there’s nothing more to say than StreetLife is an excellent album recorded by excellent musicians.