Posts Tagged ‘German Progressive’

Michael Rother – Solo

Odds are if you’re familiar with Michael Rother round about 2019, its from his work with Neu! or Harmonia. If you’re digging deep, perhaps from his short stint with Kraftwerk. This month, however, the light gets shown on Rother’s tight but enticing catalog of solo works as his label Groenland issues them in the box set SOLO. The tone in his works always captured a sense of wonder, but with Neu! there was also a feeling of modernity as well. Following his move to the smaller hamlet of Frost, in Northern Germany and his connection with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius to form Harmonia, there slipped in a bucolic calm, but also (often to Rother’s chagrin) a formless float that wasn’t tethered to the heartbeat hum that had been his bedrock.

In 1976 the members all looked to solo ideas and Rother embarked on Flammende Herzen, which kept the calmer shades and lush atmospherics of his country surroundings but added in a bit more backbone than Harmonia had offered. This could quite rightly be attributed to excellent contributions by producer Conny Plank and Can’s own Jaki Liebezeit, but Rother’s vision was sound even without his ringers. The resulting album revels in natural wonder, working effervescent rhythms and Rother’s dewy guitar leads into an album that’s a soundtrack to the sun.

Surprised by its success Rother dove back in with a renewed confidence and a bigger budget, given that the solo album was outselling any of his previous works at home. Sterntaler follows much of the same feelings as the first LP before he broke new ground with ‘79’s Katzenmusic (inspired by his love of Cats) incorporating a less restrictive beat and a wider palette of instrumentation than before. While the record doesn’t exactly inspire mewling, its another instrumental dip into the blissful end of the pool, albeit now with a looser handle on the sticks and sequences. Quite sadly for audiences, this blissed trip would also be his last with Conny Plank at the controls. As he slid into his last, and quite frankly darkest period for ‘82’s Fernwarme, he’d leave behind his veteran producer in the process.

This last album in the set still retains Rother’s deft hand on the strings and synths, but turns a bit darker and away from his pastoral times, centering more on life in Hamburg than his idyll out in Forst. Jaki remains on the drums, giving the album another rhythmic tie in – looser still like Fernwarme wound up, but the record doesn’t capture the bliss as well as some of the others. The set’s rounded out with new live cuts and remixes, along with some soundtrack work, but its thos core four albums that make up the true meat of SOLO – a complete picture of Rother’s imprint on the guitar world bound up in one fine form. If you’re a fan of any of his other bands, not to mention other German Progressives like Ashra, Manuel Göttsching, Tangerine Dream, then this set seems like a solid place to spend a little time.



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Futuropaco

Somewhere in the future the spark of a great instrumental hip-hop record has been lit with the release of Futuropaco’s eponymous debut for the Danish label El Paraiso. The record, driven by Golden Void’s Justin Pinkerton, is doused in the drama of Italian Library Psych and Goblin soundtracks. It’s peppered through with the over-the-top, yet engrossing psychedelia that drove Jean Rollin’s best work and it could very easily have been disguised as a long-lost film score pushed out through Finders Keepers. It’s clear that Pinkerton has done his fair share of rifling through that particular catalog and has taken copious notes. Hell, they’re probably scribbled in the margins of a copy of David Hollander’s recently released Library retrospective, Unusual Sounds.

Worth noting, though, is Pinkerton’s background as a drummer as this adds a real streak of German Progressive punch to the record. While he’s steeped in the creepy atmospherics of the ‘70s Italians and twisted effects of French exploitation territory it’s that propulsive rhythm that keeps this record locked down and pushing harder than anything its emulating. The true classics of that era were tied to a hard edge that attracted beat fanatics, and Pinkerton’s vision of the sound skews this direction. His collector’s ear moves this well beyond just homage, though – with an alchemical attention on how to arrange psychedelic eras, Pinkerton, like his contemporaries Maston and Jon Brooks, has found a way to move the needle forward on Library psych. While, sadly, there’s no film digging into this particular well of instrumental goodness, it’s tempting to let the mind wander through Criterion-worthy scenarios drenched in technicolor and backed by Futuropaco’s psychedelic excess.



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The Night Crawlers – The Biophonic Boombox Recordings

Entrance into The Nightcrawlers’ world is foreboding at best and the currency at the gate is time. Considering the Philadelphia collective recorded over thirty-five cassettes of home recorded material between 1980 and 1991, the true barrier to figuring out their Kosmiche wonderland is finding the time and patience to sift through their extensive improvisational float. Thankfully, Anthology have cut out a lot of the work for you, boiling down their boombox experiments to a hefty collection that weighs in at over two hours, but tackles some of their best psychedelic fodder.

The band released a handful of LPs along the same arc but would become consumed by their studio improvisations that they recorded down to simple boombox room recordings. This gives the works here a rough quality, pocked with hiss and dotted with coughs and clicks, but it doesn’t detract from the band’s commitment to the German Progressive lineage. They churned out some high quality special float that spurned their contemporaries’ dive down dance paths, opting instead for the hypnotic comfort of Tangerine Dream, Goblin and Klauz Schulze LPs as their talismans. As such they also bridge the gap between those early German synth weavers and more contemporary resurgence that have arisen through Emeralds, Oneotrix Point Never and The Belbury Circle. A definite recommendation for the heads out there and the Kosmiche surfers looking to expand their library.




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Vive la Void – “Red Rider”

All things tangential to Moon Duo are heating up this year, with a new album on the way from Ripley’s Wooden Shjips and now the announcement of a new solo project from Sanae Yamada. The first track, “Red Rider,” paints the project in strokes of throbbing German Progressive, which isn’t a surprise given the Duo’s love for ’70s proggy Teutonic rock. Yamada injects her own brand of coldwave/dreampop to the proceedings, though, pushing the sound into mesmerizing waters. The accompanying video is delightfully psychedelic and dark. Down to see how this whole thing shakes out but loving this one for the moment.

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Snapped Ankles

OK, lets just start it out by saying that the “hold a mirror up to us,” Shakespeare-embroiled marketing around this album is a bit heavy handed. Snapped ankles aren’t going to shift your perception on life and bring out the Sun King in all of us. However the album is cherry picking from a great gob of rhythmic-forward electronic, dance and pop music from the last forty-odd years and doing a lot of it quite well. Frog-hopping time and genres from Gary Numan-robopop though Clinic’s reinterpretation of German Progressive ideals then spinning ’round and incorporating a good deal of the bombast that fueled The Chemical Brothers’ vocal-heavy entries – the record is seemingly stuffed but cribbing from a lot of common elements. What those artists sliced like sonic cutlets from the ’70s (or in Numan’s case, just invented) Snapped Ankles rake into the pot for a full press ante on wonky lock-step pop.

So, yeah while they aren’t the first to plow the lane, they’re still widening it just fine. The back to back double kick of “I Want My Minutes Back” and “Jonny Guitar Calling Gosta Berlin” are the crest of the album, rolling all their appropriations together, and as I’ve previously mentioned, emulating the aforementioned Numan better than many who’ve knelt at the altar. The rest of the record doesn’t shake out too shabby either. The band is working well in the redline, pushing ecstatic pop that’s looking to jump out of the skin and live in the electrons bouncing untethered in the air around us all. They know how to work the squelch into a hook and wrangle atmospheres over a motorik grind. So, yes while I’m going to call the band out on whatever’s happening in this picture, the record stacks up just fine for all your high-volume hi-jinks needs.




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Monopol – Monopol

Original copies of Monopol’s sole album will set you back a piece, but thankfully Medical is here to get you in on the cheap. The German band’s 1982 LP was steeped in a collision of Krautrock propulsion and synth textures that speak to a love of Kraftwerk, Cluster and Klaus Schulze, cementing a crystallization of German progressive influences gone pop. They also dig into the same mechanical menagerie of sounds that popped up in Lunapark and The Units, echoing their robotik fun park vibes, tough it’s less likely that those seeped into Monopol’s sound so much as came up concurrently from the same wellsprings. The band was purely a studio concoction, never playing live gigs, save for a few television performances around the album’s release, but they used the studio to its fullest extent as a laboratory for synth.

As is all too common, this would end up being the band’s only outing due to a rift and breakup shortly after its release. While the members didn’t go on to contribute to other musical projects, they stayed on in the music industry in other capacities. The record is a playgound of textures and remains a pretty admirable showcase for the state of electronic music at the time of its release. The band seemed to have a collection of every synth available, pushing them to work to their capacity. It winds up more than just a historical oddity though, as the songs have a beating heart that will capture the imagination of Krautrock fans and early dance music enthusiasts alike. Medical has gussied up the reissue in a nice package and pressed down to 180. Not too shabby.



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Tyll – Sexphonie

There are still things in the pipes that deserve a proper reissue, though we’re certainly approaching peak lost record in the realm of reissues. However, this overlooked piece of Krautrock history from Tyll is definitely one of those lost era gems that slid from the view of most of the buying public. The album got a shout from the always intriguing Mutant Sounds a few years back and now, as luck would have it, Guerssen imprint Mental Experience has offered up a legit reissue of this lost nugget of German Progressive history. The band is an offshoot of sorts of fellow German psych band Eulenspygel, though not necessarily an amicable one. The two bands had a falling out that resulted in poached members (specifically drummer Günter Klinger) and legal disputes in the end.

The record’s story is atypical to be sure. Kerston Records approached guitarist Teflon Fonfara about recording a Progressive album and since he was on hiatus from Eulenspygel, he accepted and began to assemble a band of players and friends. The record came together quickly and was the group’s sole offering. With the band given a fairly antonymous amount of freedom to create whatever they liked in the studio, the record pushes outside the bounds of many more rote releases of the time. For every searing guitar lead there’s echo laden tape effects, grunted vocal intros, spaced out synths and music box outros. The rest of the album mixes folk guitars with acid psych and harder rock impulses. To call it a Krautrock album would probably be a bit misleading, as it lacks the propulsive bent that’s so often associated with the movement. Though there are definite Kosmische trappings in the spaced out effects that swirl around several of the tracks, giving it a clear connection. This is more of a true German Progressive album, capturing everything from Zappa’s influence, to jazz, folk and their homegrown Krautrock sounds. Its definitely the kind of album that feels like the hand of a label wasn’t holding on too tightly and that’s what makes it so much fun. Excellent to see that this kind of oddity has found its way back to vinyl.


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Kraan – Kraan

There’s always time to fit a few more Krautrock classics in your life, right? Kraan were a high capacity bill across the seas following the release of their eponymous debut and its follow-up Wintrup. The debut speaks highly to their success, following a tougher edge on the genre that’s more technical and a bit less bound to swirling keys than some of their counterparts. The German lyrics may have held them back in The States but they could have easily appealed to fans of King Crimson, Yes or other lost classics like Greek band Pan with their infusion of Jazz elements. The band would develop these elements more and more over the years, eventually protruding heavily into the Jazz-fusion genre, but here, they hold them in the right amount of check. There are flecks of jazz in the soloing and feel of the album, especially on the sidelong, “Head,” but they augment with plenty of zest for the psychedelic hangover and rock dynamics.

The band continued to make albums, peaking with a live album in 1975 that predictably showed off their aptitude for improvisation. Following that album they’d begin to tip the scales towards jazz and away from prog, essentially losing a bit of their core sound, working in that vein through the ’90s. Then they’d break for a ten year hiatus before reforming in the 2000’s for shows. This debut stands as a unique spirit in Krautrock’s stables, progressive and heavy, spacey but with knotty bits of percussion and improvisation that make it feel distinct in its vision. Perhaps the whole catalog isn’t essential for the dive, but for the prog highlight reel, Kraan’s debut is a must listen.

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Sitting Bull – Trip Away

That this record ever nabs a Krautrock tab is solely because the band is German and came up during the
70s timeframe that produced many of those bands. It bears none of the hallmarks of the genre. What’s more interesting is that its a German band that seems to wholly and heavily in-debt themselves to West Coast American rock. They pull much more from Quicksiler Messenger Service, heavier Moby Grape, Kak or West Coast imitators like The Wizards From Kansas than any of their own country’s heavy hitters. The band is often most notable for being founded by Bernd Zamulo, who joined The Lords around 1965 and would remain in their lineup throughout their most successful years. Stateside The Lords are a bit of an blip, garnering some acclaim on compilations like Nuggets that focus on some of their more accessible garage fare. In their home country though, they were highly successful, albeit erratic and prone to lean into drinking songs. They’d release five albums and at least a dozen singles in the span of just four years.

Zamulo sought to break out of The Lords shadow to something more progressive and formed Sitting Bull, named after his fascination with Native American iconography, a trait that’s a bit cringe-worthy in hindsight but not so surprising in 1971. The band secured a deal with CBS and was allowed to record at their whims mostly on the good will of Zamulo’s ties to The Lords and his former success. The recording sessions proved lengthy and after the record was finished the company promoted two singles and setup a continental tour for the band, who immediately soured their reputation with the company by proving unreliable in getting to gigs. They’d break up two years later and by ’75 Zamulo would be back with a reformed Lords. The record, however stands up as a solid run of ’70s early progressive, with the band’s strength leaning on heavy jams that extend into solos and breakdowns that pushed the length of pop tracks at the time. Surprisingly the album itself actually did well in Germany despite the band’s efforts to self-sabotage. The reissue on Long Hair draws in two bonus singles that the band cut for Philips just before they broke up. Its probably not going to be the most essential piece in a collection but for completists and West Coast-style enthusiasts its a fun listen.



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Sand – Golem

Sand’s 1974 debut album Golem is an excellent oddity in the Krautrock canon. The album eschews the normal reliance on chugging rhythms to provide the backbone of their sound. Instead they use space and more importantly headspace to create their psychedelic platform. The album was recorded by Klaus Schulze in a format described as “Artificial Head Stereo Sound” (which sounds like a psych band in its own right). Immediately plunging into opener “Helicopter,” the band creates a cavern of sound that was made for headphones. It was an attempt at surround sound before there was a market, improving on Quadrophonic and dunking the listener head first into the band’s creeping psychedlics.

Golem is as uncharacteristic of Krautrock as it is of the rest of Sand’s catalog, which would largely become more proto-industrial, roping in factory field recordings and ambient noise to their sound. Here they incorporate picked acoustics that roll into menacing cradles of tone, enveloping the listener in anxious waves, curling and uncurling their grip on the throat. Then they completely break out for a wistful romp on “On The Corner.” Its atypical of its peers but it stands as an important rung on the ladder connecting the audio tissue between Ash Ra Temple, Pink Floyd, Träd, Gräs och Stenar, and naturally their mentor Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream. There have been several reissues but Rotorelief’s 2013 version (still available) is probably the most deluxe and well presented. If you have a soft spot for 70’s excess and German Progressive rock, then this one is a must have.



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