Reviews

Sicker Man – Off The Trail

Release Date: December 7th 2018
Rating: 9/10

Sicker Man is the solo project of Berlin-based artist Tobias Vethake. Since 2004, Vethake has been steadily releasing a unique form of material that blends elements of classical music with electronica and experimental pop. Cello is a central element of Vethake’s sound, often being ran through a series of analog effects pedals to craft a one-of-a-kind sound. His upcoming album ‘Off The Trail’, due for a December release, effectively showcases a very talented and unique artist with a fantastically-formed sonic identity.

0008359057_10

The album kicks off with the seven minute epic ‘The Rift’, which serves as an excellent introduction to Vethake’s sound. The track is primarily written for solo cello, which has been run through a series of effects pedals and is heavily distorted. Synth drones are introduced at key points of the track, which compliment the lead cello line wonderfully and add a real sense of presence to the material. This shows a great sense of musicality as well as fantastic arranging abilities from Vethake. Particular praise goes to the stripped-back second half of the track, which replaces the lead cello line with a set of distant, ethereal-sounding synth lines. This creates a wonderful sense of contrast to the opening section and the melodic material is sure to give the listener goosebumps. This shows great attention to detail and a real sense of musical accomplishment.

‘Hollow Glow’ opens with a set of ambient, looping synth sounds, before introducing elements of percussion under a set of upbeat pizzicato cello lines. The counterpoint work in the pizzicato cello on this track is excellent, making use of some really interesting harmony and once again showing an accomplished sense of musicality. After a false ending, Vethake introduces a coda section of distorted synth and haunting cello lines, effectively reprising elements heard on the opening track and connecting his sound throughout the album. ‘Turns But Sweeps’ is a far more somber track, rooted in a minor tonality and showcasing some truly heart-wrenching string lines. At this point, my attention turns to how Vethake’s material would best work in a live setting; as he performs instrumental music that’s unmistakably thought-provoking, I’d strongly suggest he employs a strong visual element to his live shows if he isn’t already doing so. This could include suitable lighting, stage props and even choreography if at all possible. I strongly believe this would showcase his material in the best light possible and make for a truly unforgettable live performance style.

‘Open Up’ is another solo cello piece, again incorporating elements of distortion and analog processing as explored on the opening track. Particular praise goes to Vethake’s use of amplifier feedback, which adds a haunting dimension to his sound that hasn’t yet been seen. The midsection of this track reprises elements of the more somber material explored on the previous track, which again excellently ties the album together as a cohesive piece of work. The track then fades into ‘Sneak Peak’, which sees a full return of the more somber elements of Vethake’s sound and serves as an excellent transition. At this point, it strikes me that Vethake’s music has a very strong resemblance to video game scores, specifically music composed for shooter and strategy games. As a result, I’d very strongly recommend he consider pitching his work to independent video game makers or even looking into composing work for video game developers. This could reap significant financial rewards and would be an excellent move career-wise.

‘Picking up the Pieces’, whilst composed for strings, is based around a classic pop-influenced chord progression. Vethake uses the VI chord as a primary pivot on this track, allowing for some interesting harmonic moves and unforeseen progressions. The string tracks gradually layer up, before introducing electronic elements towards the end. I felt this was an effective fusion of his two strongest traits and again showed a good sense of musicality. At this point, my attention turns to Vethake’s sonic identity, which is overall very well-formed and thoroughly-channeled. He not only consistently operates within a unique genre, but has also carved out a whole host of unique signature traits. These include effect-laden cello lines, electronic elements and stripped-back interlude sections. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how he continues to showcase and develop his excellent sonic identity on future releases.

‘Universal Drift’ takes a more minimalist approach, basing itself around a set of synth drones that gradually increase in texture. I found this track very thought-provoking and felt it would accompany a strong visual element well. It’s worth emphasising once again how much I hope Vethake is employing a visual element into his live performances as well as possibly looking into composing for film or video games. As the layers strip themselves back and gradually fade away, we’re introduced to the bonus track ‘Runner’. This sees a return of the excellent counterpoint pizzicato lines explored earlier on the album, which are accented by haunting synth drones and electronic samples. Finally, my attention turns to the album’s production, which is overall fantastic. All tracks are very well-recorded and it’s clear Vethake has taken adequate time to obtain appropriate tones and takes at the source. In addition, all effects are tastefully applied and all frequencies and levels are well-balanced. The mastering work is also excellent, with the production having a consistent feel from it from track to track. This contributes to a cohesive and accomplished body of work.

Overall, ‘Off The Trail’ effectively showcases a unique artist who is immensely talented at what he does. The album is an absolute pleasure to listen to from start to finish, showcasing a strong sonic identity and fantastic attention to detail. Highly recommended for any fans of neo-classical or electronica.

 

INTERVIEW

From a classical standpoint, your composing and arranging skills are outstanding. Can you tell us a little bit about your formal music education and how it influenced Sicker Man?
Thank You, that is very kind! Well, apart from using any instrument that I could find at home (mainly my mother’s Piano and my brother’s drumset) I did get formal cello lessons when I was 11. But apart from that, I bought my first 4-track-tape recorder from holiday work money when I was 13. ever since I recorded my music. From 1995-1999 I studied to become a music teacher in Hannover. Funny thing is, regarding this background, it was not until I moved to Berlin in 2000, that the cello found a way into my solo-work. Like many artists, Berlin changed my musical style. Before I was playing in punk rock bands and the classical side was more a part of my education. In Berlin i made contact to electronic music and to live-looping technics. I finally found a way to combine all my different musical experiences.
Your music features an eclectic range of influences, from neo-classical to electronica. Who are you primarily influenced by?

My early classical music heroes are Dvorak, Brahms and Shostakovitch. Apart from that, I am very fond of the rare German Bands, that really had an impact on the international music-scene, like Neu! and Cluster. Also, I am really impressed by bands like Sunno, Brian Eno, Godspeed Your Black Emperor and Colin Stetson.

When and how did you start using effects pedals for the cello?

That was in 2002, when I bought my electric cello, at first to compete with the volume of the electric guitars in the post-rock band I was playing in at the time. Before, only used effects when I was recording my acoustic cello. With the electric Cello came the possibility of using distortion and fuzz on the cello and of increasing the general volume. Also, it came in handy for the live-looping and analog effects.

Tell us a little bit about the local music scene in Berlin. Is there a dominant genre? Are there any other Berlin-based artists you’d recommend?

So, Berlin has a really wide range of musical style, much wider than is usually known.

When I started as Sicker Man in 2003 I was influenced by the places, that offered a possibility to play. Places like the old NBI, Kuhle or Zentrale Randlage. Those were mainly small places, where people sat in couches and were drinking, chilling and listening. Those now closed down places focused on live electronica, ambient and improvised music. As gentrification took place, venues like this are more to be found in the outskirts of Berlin, like Schrippe Hawaii. One of the only one still left in the city is e.g. the Ausland.
Musical friends of mine are bands like Lonski&Classen or SchneiderTM. But there are a lot of great people, that are not so widely known like e.g. Jörg Maria Zeger.
What’s next for Sicker Man?

Apart from touring with ‘Off The Trail’, there is already a new album in the pipeline.

This time I will attempt to combine the edgy, cello-based sound of ‚off the trail‘ with the indie pop attitude of my previous record ‚the missing‘. So, there will be some songs melted into atmospheric cello drones.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s