Geoff Barrow is a man not just with his fingers in a lot of pies but someone with a keen interest in pies of many different varieties, and quite often, with his Midas touch, those pies turn to gold. This is clear from his work with Portishead to his recent production duties for The Horrors, where he somehow polished the turd we were expecting into a glittering torrent of My Bloody Valentine-like majesty. Signed to his label Invada, and backed by Barrow’s current pet-project BEAK>, Anika again represents another shift. Given she’s from Berlin, and Barrow’s flavour of the month seems to be Krautrock, you think you can see where this going, only to find yourself following the wrong scent entirely.
A nod to a scene even Barrow is too young to have been a part of, this quickly thrashed-out debut (recorded in just 12 days) draws heavily on the ramshackle DIY attitude of punk and its assimilation of the heavy dub basslines that rolled in alongside settlers from Jamaica in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Peering back further, in Anika herself, the obvious parallel here is the protopunk pin-up Nico – and that’s not just down to the German origin. The blonde-mopped 23-year-old has a voice that’s – dare I say it – as wonky as The Velvet Underground’s one-time muse. Occasionally it sort of works, but mostly it doesn’t – the droning, draining cover of ‘End of the World’ (the song that found itself woven into the finale of the third series of Mad Men) in particular will have you willing this unspecified impending apocalypse to just get it over with already.
Things do get better, with single and standout moment ‘Yang Yang’ rattling around like a moody, fuzzy-headed post-Britpop comedown Blur fronted by Marianne Faithfull. Beyond that, the highlight is the dub reworking of ‘Masters of War’ that rounds-off this effort, with Anika’s voice cloaked behind a muggy wall of bass.
Anika’s other life as what she describes as a political journalist floats to the surface towards the end of the first cut of ‘Masters of War’, with a soldier lamenting his involvement in Iraq, suggesting that the occupying forces might have been the real terrorist threat the whole time. But even this revelation sounds like it has been beamed from the past – not even from the Bush era, when we had a solid evil to rally against, but from the black and white footage of somehow simpler times. To continue the wartime vernacular, this whole album sounds like a retreat.