Credit: courtesy the artist

I was a wee lad with little journalism experience in 1998, when I interviewed German guitar god Michael Rother, who’d cofounded pioneering experimental rock outfits Neu! and Harmonia in the 70s. Not only did I hit him with a cliched question about his biggest influences, but I also pressed him when he said that no one really inspired him. Finally, he admitted (I think only slightly annoyed) that George Harrison and the first British Invasion ax wielders had been big for him as a youth—but he made it clear that he’d never intended to copy anyone. Rather he and his bandmates were trying to create their own kind of German music. Anchored by the motorik rhythms of drummer Klaus Dinger and Rother’s fierce strumming, Neu! did indeed set a precedent for generations of musicians with a novel form of propulsion—and in the decades since, Rother has continued to undertake new explorations of his creamy distortion and metronomic pulse in his solo work.

When the pandemic began, Rother was still living on the same isolated German farmland where in the early 70s he’d recorded some of his most famous works with Harmonia and Brian Eno, but in 2020 he moved to Italy to be with his partner, electronic musician Vittoria Maccabruni, whom he’d met on tour in 2005. On the duo’s new album, As Long as the Light, Rother’s palette has widened; Maccabruni’s voice and digital sequences seamlessly combine with his expansive guitar ideas, and their collaborative skills enhance each piece. Album opener “Edgy Smiles” acts as a grand statement of intent, with synthy bleeps giving way to a consistent throbbing backdrop for Rother’s unmistakable heady sound. The duo also match fiercely minimalist electronic beats with full-on guitar bliss on “Exp 1” and “See Through.” Topped by Maccabruni’s whispery torch-singer vocals, the chill, cosmopolitan “You Look at Me” veers toward a modern indie-pop sound, but Rother’s spiraling guitarmonies and backward ripples send it into orbit—maybe it’ll be a hit on another planet. The duo take a dark turn on “Curfewed,” whose constant scuzzy roar and indiscernible samples bubble beneath an ominous thump that evolves into polyrhythmic skittering reminiscent of drum ’n’ bass—Autechre, Squarepusher, or Cabaret Voltaire would surely appreciate it. The drone-heavy “Codrive Me” is even more out-there, with a main rhythm built from weird bloops, breathing samples, and what might be a backward heartbeat; Rother descends into this backdrop with tremolo-treated guitar that sounds like a surf instrumental. Closing track “Happy” returns from these strange, dystopian realms with a simple, plaintive keyboard line and Rother’s signature surging guitar. Rother and Maccabruni make interesting, challenging, and occasionally beautiful music together, which feels like a sweet metaphor for their partnership. I look forward to hearing where their romantic and artistic alliance goes in the future—who doesn’t like a psychedelic love story?

Michael Rother & Vittoria Maccabruni’s As Long As The Light is available for pre-order through Grönland. The record drops 1/21.