The Routes—
The Twang-Machine

Released 2022 on Double Crown / Otitis
The Seth Man, December 2023ce
Tiki torches or traffic cones? You decide.

Although The Routes are as fucked in lippy as die Herren Hütter, Schneider, Flür, und Bartos were on the original sleeve of THE MAN-MACHINE, by dint of being a trio they managed to save on the Shiseido as well as songwriting royalties by negotiating an entire album of Kraftwerk covers. Now this isn’t strictly a tribute album, except maybe as a tribute to the inventiveness of this young Japanese group’s talents. Comprised of guitarist Chris Jack, drummer Bryan Styles, and bassist Toru Nishimuta, they make all the right moves on THE TWANG-MACHINE, their eleventh (!) album and by being industrious as hell, pumping out a succession of albums since 2007, they manage sixties beat, psych and garage punk with great finesse and style. But here, instrumental surf is the idiom of the hour and you couldn’t pick one more unlikely for the renditions of Kraftwerk songs. However, like the steel band that covered Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” the unlikeliness of it all works in The Route’s favour because they apply straight skills to their instro chops as well as being obvious fans of the Düsseldorf technicians. The result? If you’re unfamiliar with Kraftwerk and only dig The Ventures, Dick Dale, surf toons and the like, you’ll love this album. But if you know and love Kraftwerk and only gravitate towards synthesized beats and pre-programmed electronics, you’ll be at a loss because despite the fact that surf and Kraftwerk are both highly technical pools of expression, they are oceans apart in terms of tone and approach. However, despite the fact that the clean-cut urban corners of Kraftwerk are worlds apart from the diffusion of surf’s twang and reverb, it is amazing how well it all works. Then again, this cultural bleeding edge cut the other way back in 1999 when various members of X, The Phantom Surfers, The Swingin’ Fezmen, and Davie Allan cut RAMONETURES, an album of Ramones covers put through a Ventures filter and it was a storming success.

THE TWANG-MACHINE is weirdly excellent, especially in its hooliganisation of expectations. Not only because it doesn’t sound like a succession of Kraftwerk tracks -- hanging ten, or otherwise -- but sounds only like the solid instrumental album it is, with the only Mensch-Maschinery light melodic touches. One would be hard pressed to not to tune into the melody of “Radioactivity” -- even here, rendered as tightly picked guitar chords on a Fender Strat via a Fender Twin Reverb amp with whammy bar accenting galore. Or even “Autobahn” (here obviously reduced in time to a fraction of its original length) where, even lacking its original stretch, includes the high-pitched, flutey melody (beginning at 3:33 on the original) which is the only recognisable element as everything else is cast into a frothy tempo that hints more at The Rivieras’ “Warm California Sun” than anything remotely Krautrock. Sometimes a passage will strike familiarity, stalling recognition by its set and setting and then you smile when it occurs to you the ripping instrumental is nothing less than “Computer Love.” Or how “The Model” sounds like “Apache ‘65” with an added frenzied yet highly controlled guitar breaks at the end. To counter this, “Pocket Calculator” is the album’s most mysterious read because barring its Nokie Edwardian gimmicky hiccupping it still hasn’t completely hit me how in the world it’s “Pocket Calculator” but it’s so superfine, I don’t care. The Morricone-inflected “Showroom Dummies” reveals how oddly perfect most of these once coldly electronic urban hymns are for instrumental reformatting and execution. It sounds like something off THE BIG GUNDOWN. But just when you think they may have crossed the line with tackling “Tour De France,” it gets taken down to a low speed and into whammy-barred quietude until the memorable melody comes wafting in through the window and billowing curtains like a seaside breeze. Meanwhile, The Route’s abrasive take on “The Robots” sounds like an assaultive Al Casey fronting The Standells. Pure wonderment. But nothing compares to “Trans Europe Express.” It’s a rave up stomper galore, a total blood and guts rave up that hits Davie Allan & The Arrows levels of intensity although to be honest, I’d never guess it was a cover of “Trans Europe Express” if it weren’t listed on the sleeve. Happily, it totally kicks ass so it don’t matter.

And if that isn’t enough, closing the proceedings is the quiet arrival of the gentle ocean breezes and moonlit reverie of (what else) “Neon Lights.”

The CD is out of print but luckily, the download isn't.

For those preferring analog, the vinyl version is available here.