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“Narkopop” turns pop music inside out

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PHOTO COURTESY OF KOMPAKT RECORDS

PHOTO COURTESY OF KOMPAKT RECORDS

PHOTO COURTESY OF KOMPAKT RECORDS

Armaan Rashid, Co-Managing Editor

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German electronic producer Gas’ fifth album “Narkopop” lives up to its name: this is narcotic pop music, hazy yet ecstatic, like a rave filtered through a dream. It’s the album to hear this spring.

Gas is one of many monikers of German electronic maestro Wolfgang Voigt, whose legendary run of albums under the Gas name at the turn of the 21st century has slowly been enshrined as masterpieces of electronic music. His last album, 2000’s “Pop,” is particularly masterful — and, as the title might suggest, “Narkopop” follows in its footsteps 17 years later.

On the surface, “Narkopop” is the exact inverse of party music — it’s wordless, long-winded and ambient. This is a headphones record, to be sure, but the most fascinating quality of Gas’ music is his ability to evoke the immediacy and intensity of pop music even as his compositions remain long, slow-moving and quiet.

In Voigt’s own words, “The aim is always pop, and to bring the forest to the disco.”

Indeed, much of “Narkopop’s” power — and its pop sensibility — comes from this clash between serenity and severity, where “the forest” meets “the disco.” “Narkopop” largely consists of intoxicating, naturalistic textures underlied by throbbing dance beats — a combination that would be ungainly were Voigt not such a master of his craft.

In “Narkopop 2,” for example, a massive bass drum is drowned under loosely floating synthesizers that wander before coalescing into a stunning, ascendant climax that doesn’t let up. The track almost drowns in its own beauty for a full 11 minutes.

Tracks like that are quintessential Gas — breathtaking and hard to pin down. His music is hard to articulate and characterize because of its complexity, but on the surface level, it’s always easy to enjoy.

Many times on “Narkopop,” as on his previous work, he stuns with the simple power of a beautiful sound. Few musicians treat sound with the care and attention to detail that Gas does, and it often results in pure majesty — like on “Narkopop 6,” when he brings on a flood of gorgeously picked guitars and spikes them with a heavenly, plush synth. The beauty is almost devastating.

Though Gas’ ability to convey beauty despite the fact that many of his compositions lack discernible melody or rhythm is astonishing, sometimes, “Narkopop” falls flat. “Narkopop 5” tries to generate a sense of menace, but it ends up mostly monotonous and forgettable.

Regardless, “Narkopop” is easily one of Gas’ best albums, which is high praise considering his acclaim. Like his other work, it’s fundamentally beguiling — hard to describe, harder still to analyze. But pure, electric feeling is always latent beneath the ambiguity, and it’s that quality that makes “Narkopop” so gripping. It’s not exactly pop music, but it’ll leave you just as breathless.

Other Notable Releases:

Mount Eerie’s “A Crow Looked at Me”: This gorgeous, unsparingly bleak folk album earns its insane hype — it’s the sixth highest rated album of all time, according to Metacritic — because it manages to be as stunningly crafted as it is violently depressing.

Must Listen: “Ravens” is a contender for one of the best folk songs ever. The lyrics are nothing short of poetry, and the lilting guitar melody Elverum crafts is as wondrous as it is melancholy.

Arca’s “Arca”: This Venezuelan producer, who has been running the pop-music show behind the scenes as producer for Beyonce, Kanye West and FKA twigs, creates his own strange, strange pop songs on his third album. He hasn’t lost any of his experimentalism in deciding to sing on his tracks for the first time, and the result is spotty: sometimes exhilarating, sometimes messy.

Must Listen: “Desafio” has Arca internalizing the pop sensibility of the stars he’s produced for and then doing them one better: no song on the charts this spring will have a hook as massive or exalting as this.

Father John Misty’s “Pure Comedy”: The wisecracking Josh Tillman’s third album is a magnum opus, 75 minutes of Tillman railing against systems of power and privilege. In some ways, this is his protest album — and though it sometimes comes off as preachy, it’s frequently witty, mournful and compassionate.

Must Listen: “Leaving LA” is Tillman’s searing, 13-minute takedown of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Funny and earnest, it’s a cutting indictment and a fantastic track.

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“Narkopop” turns pop music inside out