Not only a member of the groups Music A.M. and Tonetraeger, Dusseldorf-based pianist / composer Volker Bertelmann also releases music under the name Hauschka. His first two albums came out on the Karaoke Kalk label, and found him exploring the cracks between classical composition and electronic music as he pieced together songs built on prepared piano and touches of other instrumentation. He basically continues that trend here, but Room To Expand also finds Bertelmann creating some of his most playful pieces to date.
Opening track "La Dilettante" is easily one of the best songs on the entire release, a four-minute song that develops beautifully from a playful opening segment of string-backed piano phrases into a more weighty ending with low end drum machine thumps and more aggressive melodies. "Paddington" follows, and it's another spritely piece, shuffling about with some deft piano phrases and a touch of horns at the end.
After the excellent beginning of the album, Room To Expand pulls back a great deal, moving into a series of tracks that are slower and more reflective. Averaging nearly five minutes apiece, "One Wish," "Chicago Morning," and "Kleine Dinge" all have some fine moments, but none of them really warrant the longer lengths either, content to push along with their rattling, scraping piano sounds without developing much of anything too interesting around them.
Such is the biggest problem with the twelve track, nearly fifty-minute album. Many tracks lock into some fine moments, and more fleshed-out pieces like "Watercolour Milk" stand just fine on their own, but there are many songs that seem to get stuck in neutral for periods of time. A unique twist on a somewhat familiar theme of piano music, Hauschka has put together another album of work that's occasionally breathtaking, but unfortunately sometimes a bit too close to wallpaper.