"Ich glaub, Corona ist berühmter als der Mauerfall und Jesus zusammen” (“I reckon corona is more famous than the fall of the Berlin Wall and Jesus combined”), sing Cologne-based rock band AnnenMayKantereit on the third track of their new record, ‘12’, released last month.
It is, evidently, not an unsubtle handling of the now ubiquitous theme of the coronavirus pandemic, and at times makes for a gloomy listening experience. Despite the heaviness of the subject matter, however, ‘12’ unfolds into an eloquent and at times even playful record, as the band ponders loneliness, love, and the uncertain future which looms ahead.
AnnenMayKantereit in concert in 2017. Photo: Stefan Brending via Wikimedia Commons
Anticipating the record’s general bleakness, the introduction offers only sparse, sombre piano melodies, as lead singer Henning May declares, “Alles, was wir haben, kommt irgendwo aus der Vergangenheit” (“Everything we have comes from somewhere in the past”). The band adopts a much narrower line of vision as they describe the ‘Gegenwart’ (‘present’) in dismal terms: “Ich muss mich zwingen, ein paar Stunden keine Nachrichten zu lesen” May confesses (“I have to force myself not to read the news for a couple of hours”), before asking, “oder bild ich mir das ein?” (“Or am I imagining that?”).
Such a sincere depiction of our dystopian reality is naturally lacking in positivity, but the production gathers some energy in the following track, which chronicles the process of ‘Gegenwartsbewältigung’ (‘coping with the present’). Here, spirited piano melodies oppose descriptions of monotony, and despite receding into lament tangled with ghostly backing vocals (“Ich hab’ keine Hoffnung zu verkaufen”, declare all three musicians - “I have no hope left to sell”), the track feels earnest rather than empty; an honest reflection, after all, of the elusive and sometimes entirely absent hope of ‘coping’ with the current time.
From the beginning, then, this is unmistakably a ‘corona album’ - insofar as such a thing has come to exist in the space of this year. Though it initially tackles the theme with sparing nuance, the focus is widened throughout. By the time attention is turned to the ‘Zukunft’ (‘future’), the band’s meditations become loftier: “Ich glaub' sogar, ich hab' schon was gelernt über Liebe, Zweifel, Einsamkeit,” suggests May, (“I believe I’ve already learnt a few things about love, doubt, loneliness”). His vocals are powerful and bitter, with almost operatic-sounding runs, but there is also a confidence to the track that offsets his anguish.
Such energy is injected also into the next song, a brief glance back into the ‘Vergangenheit’ (‘past’), which prompts a dreamy, buoyant interlude contemplating a love affair set during ‘Spätsommerregen’ (‘late summer rain’). While still grounded by the bass and May’s gravelly tone, this track signals a departure from the heaviness with which the album opens. The chorus, a repetition of only one line (“Es ist okay” - “It's okay”), is set against an animated drum track complete with an effervescent snare. It gives the sense that the band has created a space in which misery can grow and retreat when commanded, with shadows that linger but do not eclipse the album’s more hopeful sentiments.
The remaining songs retain this untethered feel; ‘Warte auf mich’ (‘Wait for me’), with its sweeping synth and faint strings, sounds melancholy still, but not miserable, and has a pleasant, folky feel. ‘Ganz egal’ (‘Whatever’) is the album’s sweetest offering, gathering up all the liveliness that its creators can muster, while the storytelling in ‘Aufgeregt’ (‘Excited’) has an almost indie-pop feel. The mood darkens once again at the record’s close, enacting the circularity envisioned in the titular image of a clock hand rotating and returning once again to ‘12’.
The final track references not only lockdown-centred musings, but also more insidious issues: the second verse describes a “Meer aus Plastik, dass so groß ist wie die Schweiz” (“A sea made of plastic, as big as Switzerland”). Yet alongside this entropic quality, some kind of optimism emerges as May insists, “Ich werde singen, auch wenn es niemanden mehr interessiert” (“I will sing, even if no one is interested anymore”).
What remains is not only dejection but fluency, the satisfaction that comes with finding words to describe a common struggle. AnnenMayKantereit may be heavy-handed with the truth, but their honesty offers a comforting reassurance in the uncertain times in which we find ourselves.
The album artwork for '12'. Source: @annenmaykantereit via Instagram