The Picturebooks is a German duo consisting of Fynn Claus Grabke [vocals, guitar] and Philipp “Maddin” Mirtschink [drums]. The two first met hanging out at a skate park and became fast friends, realizing they had more in common than skateboarding, especially their mutual adoration of motorcycles and bands like The Smiths, The Cure and Minor Threat. Soon they were using Fynn’s dad’s equipment, which he had amassed over the years as a record producer and musician, to make music of their own. Following two indie releases in Europe, they found themselves playing at major festivals like Sziget. They also toured with everybody from International Noise Conspiracy to Spinnerette. When it came time to record their new album, Imaginary Horse, they retreated to the garage where they store and repair their motorcycles, which was something akin to a spiritual retreat for them. Here’s Fynn on recording in the garage, “”First of all, the studio is in the middle of nowhere. There are forests and fields around it. You can focus on making music without any distractions. Our goal was to come up with as unique of a sound as possible. We recorded everything in the garage with two mics next to our motorcycles fifteen feet away from us. I would basically sit on my chopper and sing. We got this incredible, real reverb. It was just awesome.”
In addition to the setting where the album was recorded, another thing contributed to their wholly original sound, their instruments. While in Los Angeles, Fynn had purchased some thrift shop guitars. He’d always been influenced by the tribal sounds of Native American music, so he built custom percussion instruments and enhanced his guitars with bells. Meanwhile, Phillip decided against playing cymbals, using large Toms instead, which he clobbers with mallets in lieu of drumsticks.
By now, you’re probably thinking that these cats have a pretty unique sound. And they certainly do. They’re like the bastard child of Tom Waits and The Dead Weather, both of which artists they’re equally as talented as. When you listen to Imaginary Horse, it’s not like listening to an ordinary album. It might be a raw record, but it’s also exquisitely produced, so much so that you feel like you’re listening to them perform it live right in front of you. In other words, it’s not just a listening; it’s a full-blown experience. The percussion kicks you in the chest, almost hard enough to give you a heart attack, while the piercing guitars tease your skin like a razor blade that’s just about to cut you. And the vocals, well, the sound of Fynn’s voice hypnotizes you, commanding your full attention as it dirties up your mind.
The album opens with the title track, “Imaginary Horse,” a simple one minute song that serves as a perfect introduction, acquainting you with Fynn’s seductive vocals and Phillip’s punchy percussion. It’s followed by the killer single “Your Kisses Burn Like Fire,” which finds Fynn all sexed up and gritty, practically screeching some of his vocals. If its massive chorus doesn’t do it for you then you probably have a serious hormone deficiency. “PCH Diamond” is next and Fynn sports somewhat of a Jim Morrison vibe during the verses, though screams of Jack White during the stomper of a chorus.
Elsewhere “The Rabbit And The Wolf” could almost be vintage AC/DC. Vintage AC/DC on a ton of steroids, that is. Furious guitars claw through flesh as Fynn screams and barks during the turbo-charged chorus. It’s easily as menacing as any black metal I’ve heard recently, reeking of danger from start to finish. You will feel hunted.
“Learn It The Hard Way” begins with softer percussion, almost sounding like there’s a dance music track faintly playing in the background behind the louder percussion being performed loudly in the forefront. If you’ve been digging the impressive Royal Blood of late, this whole album should be on your must-hear list and this gravelly nugget is a perfect place to start. Not that you could go wrong with any of the lucky 13 tracks here. This is one of only a handful of albums this year where I’d have to declare every single song a winner. There’s a race for album of the year and The Picturebooks are a strong contender. Expect to see them make dozens of top ten lists. And, surely, they’ll top a few, too.