One Model Nation | Totalwerks Vol. 1
Most likely to: remind you that you want to watch The Lives of Others.
Ach du lieber! Sometimes it seems that within the chest of every indie rocker there beats a motorik heart. Everybody wants to Krautrock & roll all night and Communist Party every day. Sonic Youth, Super Furry Animals, Yo La Tengo, to name but a few – they’ve all answered with an emphatic “Jawohl!” to the question “Spriechen sie Deutsche?” Heck, even Wilco – who started out as a country band, for crying out loud – has been known to tool down the Autobahn with Neu! blasting out of the Volkswagen’s speakers on more than one occasion. (Of course, I have pet theory that “I Walk the Line” was the first Krautrock song, so a country band turning Deutsche isn’t all that out there to me. Ask me about it when you’re really bored at a party someday.)
Courtney Taylor-Taylor of the Dandy Warhols has also heard Lorelei calling his name from her rock in the middle of the Rhine, and he’s answered her siren’s song by creating an entire fictional band, One Model Nation, complete with an epic backstory teeming with the romance of youthful revolt. Originally conceived ten years ago as a screenplay idea with actor Donovan Leitch (son of Donovan the singer, brother of Ione Skye), the One Model Nation project has since evolved into a graphic novel, a website, and now this album, a compilation of the fictional band’s music.
I’ll not comment on the plot specifics of the graphic novel for the simple fact that I’ve not read it. However, Totalwerks Vol. 1 makes me want to read it, so that’s got to be considered a point in its favor. The setting for the whole enterprise is Germany in the ‘70s, a place ripe for youthful rebellion, as the generation known as “Hitler’s Children” came of age and had to deal with the legacy dumped on them by the unspeakable things their parents’ generation was responsible for. Much of this rebellion took place in the form of the Krautrock explosion, paid tribute to here by One Model Nation. It also took the form of terrorist organizations such as the Baader-Meinhof Complex, which also seems to figure into the overarching story at some point.
Anyhow, it’s a corker of a backstory for a multi-media project, but does Totalwerks Vol. 1 hold up its end of the bargain by creating music compelling enough to make one curious about the fictional band that created it? Well, I pretty much answered that in the previous paragraph, I guess, but yeah, it definitely does. Drawing on sources like Kraftwerk, Neu!, Faust, Can, Ash Ra Tempel and David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, Taylor-Taylor has created a credible approximation of and loving tribute to the German music scene of the 1970s, as well as nodding towards the political realities that spawned it.
The most impressive thing about it is that while One Model Nation tips its Alpine hat to all the aforementioned bands, it doesn’t ape any of them. There’s no “here’s our Neu! song, here’s our Kraftwerk song, etc.” business going on here, which is often the downfall of such projects (such as The Lilys’ similar album of 15 or so years ago.) Instead, it sounds like the work of an actual band that could conceivably have been operating in the same environment as the great Krautrockers but had its own agenda to pursue. It has all the embryonic industrial and techno styles that were birthed in Germany during that era, but it also retains the glammy pop sensibility of The Dandy Warhols. In 70s Germany, One Model Nation would have been the Krautrock band that everyone pointed out was listening to a lot of Bowie, T. Rex, and Roxy Music.
Pop culture is full of fictional bands and personas, but most of them end up sounding either like either pastiches of other bands or not very convincing reinventions of existing persona. For instance, when Garth Brooks became tragic pop star Chris Gaines he just sounded like Garth Brooks in a bad wig. The Commitments were fun enough, but dodged the sticky problem of trying to create a believable fictional band by being a soul covers combo. What Courtney Taylor-Taylor and associates have done is infinitely more impressive. They’ve imagined themselves back in a specific time and place and created a very specific band as a result, one that definitely draws on the music of that era but which has its own distinct band personality. Herrlich! Wunderbar!!
Now I just need to track down a copy of the graphic novel.
Listen to One Model Nation’s “Transmission” below: