The German contribution to the pop music landscape may be too esoteric to even gauge.
Playful and perverse, German pop sounds so radical because it finds harmony in its own discordance, in its place outside of a listener's expectations.
Take the seminal Berlin new-wave band Malaria!, archived on Moabit's Compiled 1981-1984. In the midst of today's glossy new-wave revival, the bellowing grooves and menace of Malaria! should be the envy of every synth-infused band, be it from Soft Cell and Human League's first-wave or the electro forebearers mimicking it on either side of the Atlantic today.
Attaining that perfect balance of foreboding and melody, Malaria! makes everything else "new-wave" seem both juvenile and irrelevant. It's more than their willingness to stray from the confines of the "sound," exemplified by the dark saxophone interludes on Your Turn to Run which throw off the songs poppier innocence.
Malaria! exists out of bounds. Bettina Koster's vocals are both operatic and utterly androgynous. Equally, Malaria!'s evolution throughout the disc wanders from seedy, quasi-goth, quasi-industrial tracks to disco-infused, bleepy, post-Kraftwerk songs. What binds all of these tracks though is Malaria's Germanness. As their sound jumps out of the gutters, Malaria! remains truly baffling.
Their lyrics shift from German to English on whims, Koster's words and gender remain muddled under her own bombastic, sensual delivery, and the beats and sequencer loops are consistently provoking and haunting. Songs like Zarah and Leidenschaft/Passion take the synth-drum machine formula into the bowels of the subconscious, creating rhythms that feel both illicit and liberationing.
As this new-wave revival seduces another generation to its robotic dancefloor repetitions and shadowy sexuality, Malaria! should be an immediate reference point. More than any of the bands of their ilk, Malaria! shows that dance music, and pop music for that matter, before being sexy, need to be dangerous.