“I woke up wrong,” begins Paul Kintzing, aka German Error Message, on ‘Hoplessness’, the second track on his new album Mend. It’s a simple line, just four words, but as the album unfurls it’s difficult not to assign it a certain gravity. The sentence acts as a kind of opaque distillation of an album that exists within a state of tension, a collection of eight soft and gentle songs that explore feelings of agitation and unease.
“Hopelessness pacing the room,” Kintzig goes on to sing, as if eager to confront these demons immediately, “will worry forever destroy me?” The track’s anxious themes are offset by mellow strummed guitar and muted, breathy vocals, coming to feel like a moment’s quiet clarity amidst a barrage of mind-racing worries. Such a sensation extends across Mend, earnest messages delivered from a deceptive calm, the eye of a personal storm, acting as a soothing balm for our own worries and woes.
This sense of contrast is also present in the album’s very texture, the grain of its beams and the dust that settles in its corners. Kintzig evokes the seclusion and stillness of an empty house, intertwined feelings of isolation and tranquility snaking around each song. Opener ‘Murmuring’ is the immediate example, a song that describes both frantic feelings and the comforting image of “the yard’s gentle murmuring,” what we described in a preview as “joy and dread creeping side by side, twin forces of transcendence that promise to lift us from the contemporary loneliness.”
If you’re familiar with previous German Error Message releases then you will immediately feel at home. Kintzig has always had a knack for combining folk and ambient and bedroom pop and slowcore, melting them down into restrained but emotionally poignant music prone to spikes of desperation. The sound is close to being perfected on Mend, loaded with foreboding and humane warmth despite the relatively short run-time, the longest track clocking in at under three and a half minutes in a genre prone to meandering.
‘Red Kitchen’ is a musical representation of the fluttery, hyper-sentimental feeling that comes with exhaustion. “All things will be held warmly,” Kintzig sings, “and recognised in a red kitchen, all lit up with everyone that I’ve ever loved.” ‘Protection I’ brings to mind Aaron Gerber and Sarah Winchester’s A Weather project with its steady percussion and sense of rich melancholy, while the song’s follow-up has perhaps the closest thing to a chorus on Mend, as Kintzig asks “How will I protect myself?”
The relatively upbeat drums and George Pauley’s piano make ‘Saltless’ the nearest Mend comes to a lo-fi pop song, although Kintzig’s vocals never quite puncture their downbeat tone, and the sense of isolation is still overwhelming. “I have trouble being in myself,” he sings, pulling against the rising cadence of the drums. “Every creak and groan / that echoes through the house / internalised / it’s saltless and puzzling.”
Closer ‘Carefully’ steeps itself in the album’s defining spectral loneliness, trying to find peace or solidity in the impermanence of doubt. As such, the song feels like a self-confrontation, a late night mirror gaze in the unflinching light of a halogen lamp. What is found there might not be ideal, or comfortable, or comparable to what we are told to expect and aim for. It might not even be an answer of any kind. But it is our reflection nonetheless. It is us.
“I’ll be fine”
with whatever happens
Got closed off, frightened
No mystery left to find
In the flat glare of blue light
Reflected in my eyes
Will my body live in tension
Will I carry doubt through my life
I’ll treat it carefully
Mend is out now and you can get it from the German Error Message Bandcamp page.