In the nearly six years since German dark jazz outfit Bohren & Der Club of Gore released 2014's Piano Nights, drummer Thorsten Benning left the group. Rather than replace him, they downsized and became a trio. The remaining members, Christoph Clöser (compositions, tenor saxophone, vibes, Fender Rhodes), Morten Gass (piano, organ, engineer, producer), and Robin Rodenburg (double bass) perform Patchouli Blue as if Benning never left; the sparse, funereal percussion is handled by a synth and all three members. The more things change the more things stay the same in the Club of Gore's musical universe. Their tunes remain as sad as a burned-out house and as lonesome as a broke and crying drunk under a dim street lamp after closing time.
If anything, this ninth album is more static in its movement -- almost glacial in places -- than anything else in their catalog. Yet, as evidenced by tracks such as the single "Verwirrung am Strand," there is a nearly tender melodic sensibility wired into the music. This is not to say they’ve given up their trademark senses of dread or impending doom, but they've been de-emphasized in favor of a less foreboding state of stasis. As usual, nothing much happens, but inside that monotony -- as on " Glaub Mir Kein Wort" -- turgidity escapes down the back stairs and is replaced by acceptance: In the darkness, everyone has an equal chance of being murdered or escaping an assassin, but how and where are up to the listener. Shimmering vibraphone, an occasional brushed gong cymbal, and deep-blue tenor lines (recalling Ben Webster's more optimistic balladry) hover and float above a drum machine and droning bassline. Those synthetic drums become a primary instrument on "Vergessen & Vorbei." In processional waltz time, they introduce entwined organ and Rhodes playing the same notes in different octaves, and they offer the illusion of movement. But the chords fold back on one another; the bassline gives the false impression of discovery. The tune emerges haunting and beautiful from the ether, offering a strange and alluring new textural dimension to Bohren & der Club of Gore's aesthetic. At once seemingly melodic and unbearably morose, this track could have been used during the living room scene in director Michael Mann's film Manhunter instead of Shriekback's "The Big Hush." The set's last cut, "Meine Welt Ist Schön," finds Clöser playing his tenor with the same mournful and dolorous tone he had on Dolores, offering a moaning, tragic, yet sensual blues above the dark ambience. This group was outfitted to become a trio long before Benning's departure. Their ability to offer an impression of a lyric line rather than the thing itself, as well as a series of minimal chord changes that stretch seemingly to infinity, is more pronounced than before. On Patchouli Blue, the band reinforce those traits, but they explore the intricacies of harmony with more emphasis, making this one of their most poetic, affecting albums yet.