Rausch is the smallest and fleetest of Wolfgang Voigt’s six albums as Gas, suggesting a quick walk through familiar terrain rather than the frightening possibilities of an infinite universe. It’s his most discordant work since 1997’s Zauberberg, but it feels reassuring rather than terrifying.
This owes in part to its length. Running an hour, six minutes shorter than the next-shortest Gas album (2000’s warm, benevolent Pop) and 20 minutes shorter than average, we know we’re never too far from a clearing and can get out of the woods as easily as we stumbled into them.
It also owes to Voigt’s decision to structure Rausch as one track broken into seven movements that bleed into one other. Gas albums typically open onto stagnant midsections that suggest a dramatic view of the German forest the project seeks to evoke. They don’t map a specific terrain but look panoramically at the size of the world and reflect on the tenuous self-control that prevents us from abandoning society and slinking ferally into the woods to wander until we die of starvation. Rausch’s structure is strictly linear, and though a blast of strings from Zauberberg reappears on “Rausch 3,” it doesn’t reference itself like most Gas albums do, pulling samples willy-nilly from other songs as if the wanderer has circled back to a place they’ve been before. It has a beginning and an end, with Voigt as an unseen, omniscient guide.
Rausch also maintains a fearsome forward momentum thanks to its inordinate focus on drums. In the past, Gas percussion tracks were always some permutation of “ominous kick drum.” Rausch opens with a familiar blast of string samples and the foreboding tap of a hi-hat deep in the mix, which about ten minutes in—or shortly into “Rausch 2”—yields to a rock-band stomp with what sounds a lot like a snare drum. Neither of these sounds have ever appeared in Gas’s music before, and though Wolfgang Voigt often points to T. Rex’s “Hot Love” as a formative point for all his musical ambitions since, it doesn’t sound like a joke anymore, so much like the feline grooves of Marc Bolan’s classic music do these drum tracks feel. (Another artist that sadly comes to mind is the recently deceased New York guitarist and composer Glenn Branca, who likewise seduced listeners with the symmetrical smoothness of rock before hypnotizing them with ambient repetition.) Gas was never much about moving bodies, and the kick in earlier Gas tracks often sounded like a will-o-wisp bouncing just ahead. These robust, full-bodied drums work on a more physical level, egging us onward into the bowels of the record.
What Rausch makes clear is that Wolfgang Voigt is less interested in the awe of the earlier Gas records from the nineties than in exploring how the project can sound. Last year’s Narkopop was the first Gas album since Pop, and it presented a higher-fi Gas, richer and bassier, with the classical strings at the harmonic foundation of the project closer to the fore than ever. The original Gas records created such a complete and perfect world that reviving the moniker seemed risky, let alone fucking with the sound. Rausch suggests more than ever how far left the Gas sound can drift while maintaining its essential mood and aesthetic, and perhaps this new era of Gas holds riskier gambits to come. Voigt could record with a real live drummer, as the Field did on Looping State of Mind. A double album of two or more hours wouldn’t be out of the question. And though Narkopop was just slightly underwhelming, it sounds better now that Rausch exists. Though Rausch might get more replays in the future simply because it’s an easier listen, Narkopop’s still around, a shadowy stretch of woods waiting for you to get lost in.
But is Rausch better? How does the new Gas stack up to the vaunted original series that may forever define the project? Right now, I’d like to say it’s a little slight. It’s certainly miles better than the apocryphal self-titled Gas album. Its arc is more satisfying than those of Narkopop or Konigsförst, though it lacks either of those albums’ sense of vastness. It certainly pales next to Pop and the underloved Zauberberg, which I’ve always felt were tied for the title of Voigt’s masterpiece. Those felt like worlds; this feels like an album. But these six very similar albums provide such different experiences that you might find yourself craving the lesser ones as often as the greater ones. After my duties as a critic are over, I’ll return as a humble fan and find myself having new adventures with this album that will open up hidden dimensions. Maybe I’ll find myself out in the wilderness with a charge on my phone and no direction home. I’ll hear the kick drum calling to me like a voice in my head. Then I’ll put on Rausch and look up at the trees as the leaves and branches blur together and start to look like the cover of a Gas album. Albums last only as long as their makers allow them to, but the wilderness goes on forever. A MINUS