Mute Records, 2023

REVIEW BY: John Mulhouse


Based in Berlin, Alexander Hacke and Danielle de Picciotto (doing business as hackedepicciotto for this release) are both musical and life partners, and Keepsakes is their fifth full length recording. Each of these nine tunes is intended to represent a friend, with the couple stating that the record is “an ode to friendship, presenting songs of gratitude.” That makes this a rather sweet and tender concept album. It might also be why parts of the record feel like a soundtrack, even aside from some of the songs being instrumental. Perhaps Hacke and de Picciotto have composed little soundtracks for bits of their friends’ lives.

The couple’s music has always been somewhat experimental and avant-garde, which should come as no surprise. Hacke remains best known for being a founding member of the titanic Einstürzende Neubauten, but has also played in Crime and the City Solution and collaborated with Wovenhand’s David Eugene Edwards, among numerous other things. American-born de Picciotto co-founded Love Parade, the political “dance music festival and technoparade” that was held in Berlin for a number of years beginning in 1989. As a duo they’ve been releasing records together since the latter part of the 2000s.

Much like recent Neubauten albums, these songs often have a gentle quality about them, probably representing the couple’s affection for their comrades. There is also a fairy tale or folk song vibe running throughout. The first track, “Troubadour,” is a good example of that, with its languid, walking pace and cryptic lyrics combining with dulcimer strings and electronics to create something that wouldn’t sound out of place in your local psychedelic forest.

The second song, “Aichach,” is one of the aforementioned instrumentals, and this time a violin combines with electronics and a dark, dancefloor atmosphere to create an apposite accompaniment to a German film noir. Speaking of noir, it sounds like electronic rain is falling in the background of “Anthem” while de Picciotto recites impressionistic images associated with the song’s subject and horns swirl. It’s notable how the album rises and falls throughout, the music not always demanding strict attention, but also never retreating to the background.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

De Picciotto and Hacke then trade off singing and reciting in “La Femme Sauvage,” with sparse instrumentation that includes tubular bells and strings, this tribute to a wild woman somewhat contradictorily (or not?) sounding a bit like a melody lifted from a music box. “Mastodon” heads the other direction with swirling drones, lone violin, and what may (or may not) be human sighs lurking below the otherwise instrumental bed. “Schwarze Milch,” which translates as “black milk” (a few languages appear across the album), is a jazzy, cosmopolitan stroll of a tune, again with fairly minimal vocalizing, while “Lovestuff” has lots of voices which, as throughout most of the record, are gentle and beguiling.

Breaking the eight minute mark, “Song Of Gratitude” is by far the longest track on the album, and perhaps the only one that could be said to be at all ominous. What could be interpreted as waves underlie distorted bass with some occasional choral singing furthering the sense of gravity. While one can’t help but wonder who these songs were written for—after all, this duo count some well-known people as friends—it would be especially interesting to know (or possibly be!) the person for whom “Song Of Gratitude” was composed.

The final track, “The Blackest Crow,” is probably the most traditionally played song on the record, which makes perfect sense as it has its origin in a Civil War-era Appalachian ballad of farewell that also has ties to the Ozarks. A wistful waltz, it’s not far from the shadowy Americana of Albuquerque’s Handsome Family. While I find “Song Of Gratitude” to be the most striking tune on the album, Hacke and de Picciotto present a lovely take on this very old air.  

Keepsakes was tracked in one of Europe’s oldest recording spaces, the Auditorium Novecento in Naples, Italy, which was used by Ennio Morricone, and it sounds immaculate. Everything is bright and clear and spacious and there is no danger of listener fatigue. That said, as I mentioned, this is often instrumental, somewhat avant-garde music that operates without typical instrumentation or structure. Again, if that sounds bit like Einstürzende Neubauten I’ll add that it’s also in line with the quieter material EN’s Blixa Bargeld has released lately, particularly with Teho Teardo. If you have enjoyed that music and have not heard Hacke and de Picciotto then you’re in for a treat. If you’re new to all this, Keepsakes isn’t a bad place to start, and I might recommend pairing it with Neubauten’s Silence Is Sexy for a Sunday morning comedown of whatever sort you may need.    

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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