Berlin music

Grimson: “Round Trip Ticket”

The vast majority of songwriters are…just…wellsong writers. That is, their ability to convey emotion or tell a story is strictly restricted to lyric and melody. So while we won’t detract from those who navigate that task masterfully, we also gotta pay dues to the multidisciplinary folks who single-handedly offer a “fuller” package. Take Aiden Berglund for example. A quick glimpse at the artwork for his dispersed discography tips you off to a well-calculated aesthetic, maybe even more so than the song titles themselves. And that’s because Berglund independently helms each aspect of his Berlin-based project Grimson, from the words and music all the way to a distinctive visual style full of woolly things, crowns of kings, and ominously ethereal scenery. And although an artist designing their own graphics in an era when access to photoshop and its derivatives comes at the click of a button isn’t nearly as impressive as it was pre-millennium…it’s this next part that blows our mind; when Berglund launched Grimson in the spring of 2021, he began bringing that growing cast of characters to life through animation, thereby establishing a multi-media brand, not just a musical one. Comparing the level of care and dedication required for that type of craft with the, simple, patronymic approach to his handle (literally as his father Grim’s next of kin) can be funny at first, but that’s when you actually start grasping Grimson’s strongest asset – his music. Grimson’s moving indie rock originals engulf the raw emotions of Elliott Smith and chronicle a gradual maturation of Berglund’s passions from late teens through early twenties – all recorded in the humble confines of a bedroom. After soaking up his ten existing singles, there’s certain to be no soot clogging up Grimson’s debut full-length Climbing Up The Chimney, out Friday, September 1st. Also, huge kudos to Berglund for his willingness to pass the animation tablet off to Yana Pan on Climbing Up The Chimney‘s latest lead look and listen, “Round Trip Ticket”. In doing so, Grimson’s melancholy universe opens up even further, fitting for a track whose the expansive orchestral arrangement orbits Berglund’s bittersweet singing. So even though this beautiful new tune is already paired with visuals, we wouldn’t be surprised if “Round Trip Ticket” popped up in a film/TV/commercial soundtrack sometime soon.

Nina Hagen: “Open My Heart (Dinner Time)”

Often with this feature we have to spell out the origin story for a young up-and-comer. Today? Not the case. That’s ’cause we’re talking about East Berlin-born New Wave & Punk trendsetter Nina Hagen. Despite bitter Cold War tensions, Hagen, with her operatic pipes and distinctive visual statements, instantly exploded with her backing band’s eponymous 1978 debut. After going solo in ’82, Hagen’s oddball aura, dolled-up wardrobe, and near-cartoonish makeup have helped her to become a powerful counterculture icon worldwide.

Strictly discussing studio output, Hagen’s prolific as hell; before this year she had sixteen LPs, two EPs, two live albums, fourteen compilations, and one original soundtrack album under her snappy elastic belt. But in light of Hagen’s undeniable legacy, we haven’t heard anything new since 2011’s Volksbeat.

That all changed this morning. Breaking a decade of studio silence, Nina Hagen just released her fourteenth solo record Unity. At a dozen tracks, Unity brings together nine new originals (including a duet with Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof as well as a George Clinton feature) plus three inventive covers (of Sheryl Crow, Bob Dylan, and Merle Travis). As is tradition in Hagen’s work, Unity does have somewhat of a political agenda. However, there are also several songs that are just plain fun and wacky. Case in point, Unity‘s penultimate offering “Open My Heart (Dinner Time)”. Between a trip-hop-esque breakbeat, chopped and pitch-shifted vocal samples, and elegant harp glissandos, “Open My Heart”, would have 100% blown the minds of ’81-era Tom Tom Club and well beyond…my own rattled noggin included.

Psycho & Plastic: “Back and Forth”

True to its name, ambient music seems best suited only to certain environments. I mean, we typically associate those sounds with New Age yoga and meditation studios; you’re not in your car cranking those healing frequencies up to 11. But that’s kind of weird, right? That we’ve collectively decided percussion and lyrics are must-haves in mainstream music? Enter Psycho & Plastic, an ambient project masterminded by South German composer-producers Alexandre Decoupigny and Thomas Tichai over the past decade. Since meeting in Liverpool and relocating to their current home base in Berlin, Psycho & Plastic have engineered electronic brilliance that gives even Brian Eno a run for his money. And with over four million streams under the belt, the pair have proven that ambient music ain’t just for asanas. At the start of July, Psycho & Plastic released Phantom Bliss, a lyric-less sonic safe space for you to be alone with your thoughts. The aural apparitions on Phantom Bliss are among Psycho & Plastic’s greatest to date, and will have you pressing ‘repeat’ with ambient earworms like “Back and Forth”.