German singer / songwriter Cynthia Nickschas’ 2018 album, Egoschwein, may well be the most punk thing to ever hit my sound system. And there isn’t a single hint of in-your-face distortion to be heard.
I’m definitely late to the party on this one, but I’ve found that in between the bouts of Arch Enemy, Children Of Bodom, Soilwork, Warrior Soul, Moonspell and Cradle Of Filth that shake the walls of my office on a regular basis, Egoschwein is a wonderful way to cleanse my musical pallet and educate my ears a little bit more.
Nickschas is a live performer first and foremost, dishing out her own unique brand of acoustic-based big-band blues-infused-jazz. Egoschwein sounds like it was recorded live off the floor, particularly the vocals, which have a smoke-and-whiskey edge one expects to hear from the stage, not from a polished studio recording. Any notes or tones that sound slightly off – a hair flat or a tad sharp – only add to the organic feel of the songs. She’s often reminiscent of Patti Smith circa 1979 crossed with classic Tracy Chapman, making for a sound all her own. Instrumentally, the album is loaded with musical fireworks and gentle nuance backing the acoustic guitar / bass / drums core with saxophone, violin (fiddle for you heathens), piano, some clean electric guitar, and a healthy dose of vocal ad-libs from Nickschas. While the songs stand on their own as solo / duo acoustic renditions – often performed that way – the full band adds a whole new dimension to the tracks, making them so much stronger.
Opening track “Musik” and “Jamsessions” are perhaps the best introduction to what Nickschas does. The former is big on groove, the latter a straightforward up-tempo track, both featuring brilliant band arrangements and Nickschas going from vocally tender to growl and back again. Title track “Egoschwein” sounds like it was pulled out of a ’70s New York lounge bar thanks to the acoustic / bass groove and saxophone. “Alles Gleich Mensch” is another standout track, with Nickschas’ lyrical delivery a lesson in how to write an infectious song (which happens several times on the album). “Wind” and “Träume” are two songs that snuck up on me, not really making an impression the first time through but have since become favourites, both of them very different from one another. The dark vocal melodies from “Träume” coupled with the harmonies are stunning. My favourite track on Egoschwein, however, is “Es Läuft”; it’s the acoustic big band jazz song that German punk legends Die Toten Hosen wish they had written. And again, the improv vocal bits put a stupid grin on my face because it’s the sound of someone loving what she does. Call it Nickschas at her finest on this record, at least from where I sit.
For those that understand German, Egoschwein may come as something of a surprise. This is not an album loaded with dumb boy-girl lyrics, tales of unrequited love, or wet dream fantasies. Nope, for her early 30-ish years, Nickschas is dangerously down to earth, offering her perceptions of real life without getting political (which is fantastic) and delivering those thoughts with razor sharp attitude or tenderness as the theme calls for it (refer to my previous “punk” comment). In this regard, folks that don’t understand the language are missing out on the work of a talented wordsmith. Respect.
Egoschwein is too long for my taste – 14 tracks total – but there are plenty of Cynthia Nickschas fans that’ll tell me to stick my “complaint” where the sun doesn’t shine. Bottom line is that she deserves to be much better known than she is, and the album is merely a showcase of what Cynthia Nickschas & Friends deliver on stage. I challenge promoters in both Germany and abroad to book her for shows or festival dates. The excuses “She doesn’t sound like what’s popular…” and “But she only sings in German…” are bullshit in a world where music is the universal language.