Amon Düül II – Wolf City

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Among my personal acquaintances of the musical kind, everyone seems to have the first two albums but after that commitment seems to wain for many which is damn weird as here we are on album #4 and the force is in full effect. Not to mention it was on JC’s list of 50 in the old “krautrocksampler” book back in the day. It’s not like it hasn’t been reissued a bit. Stop slacking people!

Album opener “Surrounded by Stars” is absolutely visionary, a song so vivid it draws a world around you, Renate a shaman holding your hand as she walks you into the skies. Just the simple format of classic rock given utter inspiration to paint wonders on the walls of your life. The rest of Side A is a little confusing in terms of tracklist because of who is credited on what but its meant to be two songs, “Jail-House Frog” and “Green-Bubble-Raincoated Man”.

They begin a little more conventional, but only relatively. It would still be incongruous even on a Hawkwind or Jefferson Airplane album. It almost meets the blueprint of popular space rock but there’s always that extra layer of madness with the Düül. Nearly two thirds of the way we get our first appearance of Chris Karrer on the lead vocals and the weird just got weirder. It’s frentic cosmo-prog until it suddenly fades out into bar-room piano and alien swamp field recordings. A choir synth fades up like a monolinth then the whole band jump in for a sax-led frenzied ritual.

Side B starts with the title track which is pretty rock ‘n’ roll and an unknown lead vocalist (about four vocalists are credited but only one is in lead). The Hawkwind hook-up begins to make more sense but then you get “Wie Der Wind Am Ende Einer Stasse” which has an intro that sounds like a horror film synth score before going for the backpacker vibe with sitar and tablas.

“Deutsch Nepal” is just fearsome, vocals by character actor Rolf Zacher barked in German like at the last cabaret on the Universe’s edge. The music a cosmic synth stomp though darkened nebula. It’s simultaneously surreal and natural, both by order of being unearthly in concept but divine in execution.

“Sleepwalker’s Timeless Bridge” starts off as a very blissful instrumental but somehow evolves into a bit of a Moody Blues thing. There really are several moments on this album where the Düül wink at the mainstream while stroking their strange progeny. It’s a cheeky ending to an album that shows that given half a mind they could have been the German Jefferson Airplane if they wanted to be but they clearly loved being their own weird selves.

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Popol Vuh – Einsjäger & Siebenjäger

If Hosiana Mantra and were Popol Vuh’s perfect morning albums then this is their start of the afternoon record. The energy has changed, there is some proper drums on here (credited as percussion but sounds like rock drums to me) and the guitar is dominating over Florian Frieke’s piano, soaring to new ecstatic heights. The strange thing is both guitar and drums are from Daniel Fichelscher but you would not know it to listen to the album, it pulses with such life that you would have sworn it was all recorded live. He also gets the writing credit for two of the songs, both exemplary guitar pieces.

It all remains contemplative and thoughtful but for most of the tracks on here, Popol Vuh feel more like a rock band than a classical or synth project. Evolution not revolution. The confidence on this one is dazzling and the results match it. Djong Yun’s voice always sounded this pure but never so triumphant and jubilant as on the spectacular title track. This piece is far too short at just under twenty minutes, I wish it were twice as long. Every musician shines jubilantly. Florian’s paino is masterful, Daniel’s guitar equally fantastic and his drumming pins it to a driving beat. They keep rising and rising to ecstatic crescendos and when Djong joins in at those peek moments it floors me.

I could not commit to having a favorite Popol Vuh album but I could certainly commit to this as my favorite Popol Vuh song. Every time I listen I notice something new, my heart soars and I feel myself swept away by the overwhelming magnificence of it. Not just my favorite Popol Vuh song, probably my favorite song. Shame I can’t pronounce it due to my low language intelligence. One day I shall get it right, until then I shall just write about it instead of talking about it.

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Faust – IV

The strange saga of Faust continues and finds out heroes signed to Virgin Records and over in England record at the Manor Studio (not an idle name, it really was a big Manor with a studio in it. It’s now the home of the Marquess of Headfort). Taken away from the incubation chamber of Wumme the results are actually remarkable.The snarkily titled opener “Krautrock” is an astonishingly extended moody drone jam. Previously recorded for a John Peel session it’s the fuzziest rock jam they ever recorded. The way it suddenly gives way to a yell and the oompah-ska of “The Sad Skinhead” with it’s jaunty xylophone sounds is one of the greatest switcheroos in music. Side one ends with “Jennifer” a pastoral ballad with a dubby rhythm and proto-shoegaze guitars twinkling fire. It climaxes with the most beautiful storm of feedback ever committed to record, like a blissful metal machine music followed by distant ragtime pianoOver on the flipside things kick off with the messily titled “Just a Second (Starts Like That!)/Picnic on a Frozen River, Deuxieme Tableaux” which begins as a psychedelic rock jam them segues into a cosmic electronic drip. Then people begin playing randomly over it like intergalactic savages.”Giggy Smile” kicks in a very motoric beat like we’re hearing another band for a moment but the wild, urgent vocals tell us we are in the Faust realm and then the sax makes it sound like a dual between Zappa and Sun Ra. The bass is just out of the world, driving the whole thing further and suddenly there’s some heavy guitar… and then a delirious keyboard riff like some old forgotten folk tune sped up.Läuft…Heisst Das Es Läuft Oder Es Kommt Bald….Läuft” is one of my favorites, an effervescent waltz through strange summers, a beautiful beat and some haunting melodies, a future ghost in a field, a midsummer procession through digital trees and a giant guitar flying overhead like a military jet.The album then ends with “It’s A Bit Of A Pain” a previously released single in Germany as they didn’t really have enough material for a new album but it makes perfect sense. The summer pop hit thrown through the Faust filter. You can sing along and hold your arms in the air but it also has the sound of boiling daleks, a guitar solo distorted into another universe and enough hashish to create a giant nebula. It’s like they’re reaching for that hit but the freak flag flies in the way. It’s also the blueprint for a thousand American wannabes.As Virgin Records got bought out and the former super labels have little to do but revisit their former glories, this \received a 2 CD reissue on EMI of all places. The bonus CD has their Peel Session, alternative takes of album tracks and an unreleased song called “Piano Piece”. Most of the alternative versions aren’t really that different but it is nice to see so great an album justly celebrated. The peel sessions had already been released by Recommended Records so while they’re great, they’re not new to the faithful. There’s the extended version of the rock jam used for the start of “Just A Second” taken from one and a half minutes to ten. Nice to hear them jamming out for so long but it’s not exactly essential. If you have a decent copy on vinyl then you don’t have to worry too much about this.

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Popol Vuh – Seligpreisung

After the surprising change of style with their previous album, “Hosiana Mantra”, Popol Vuh double down on the new sound. Once again Fricke is on piano and harpsichord, oboe player Robert Eliseu is back as is guitarist Conny Veit and tamboura player Klaus’ Wiese. However, Korean singer Djong Yun is absent with Fricke doing vocals instead and the group has an important new addition, Daniel Fichelscher on guitar and percussion who had previously played with Amon Duul II and percussion supergroup Niagra.

Of course, there’s many tranquil moments where all we hear is the sound of Fricke’s piano (unless your record has seen better days) but it all builds towards sublime moments of harmonious beauty. The ‘percussion’ mostly sounds like straight up drums for the majority of the time and given that it’s married to twin guitar soloing it could almost be a rock band but it isn’t because Fricke’s pursuit of divine otherness steers it towards something else.

It’s not new age or middle of the road blandness, it’s a sort of sonic expression of bliss, a composition of deeply meditative music expressed in the format of a rock band. It seems to be an album that exists only to be between the hours of 12am and 12pm. Waking up or winding down it fits into those subliminal mindspaces with it’s tightly composed jams. How is that even a thing?

Some reissues include a very nice bonus track called “Be In Love” which while excellent, clearly doesn’t belong on this album at all. It’s got Djong Yun on vocals and a very classical violin going on. I am very glad it’s out there and not stuck in an archive but I can’t help but feel that most of these Popol Vuh bonus tracks belong in an out takes compilation album of their own so the original albums can flow the way they were originally intended.

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Cluster – Konzerte 1972/1977


My eyebrows raised when I saw this one announced – live vintage Cluster? The very notion flusters the brain because their albums mostly sound like the result of using the studio as an instrument. Yet, here it is and it is not even unprecedented. Mind you, it was years before I realised the song ‘Live in der Fabrik’ from Cluster II actually was recorded live at a venue called Fabrik which is where the 1972 recording on here is from.

This recording is definitely a companion piece to Cluster II and sees them laying down some dense and deeply cosmic drones that must have been the most intense thing in a small club at loud volume. Within this twenty two minute performance, there is a lot to be found. At times the deep echoes call to mind the techniques of Jamaican dub and yet some of the noises sound like stoned factory machines, more like abstract industrial than new age ambience. Even as it becomes more blissful towards the end, it remains alien and unknowable. What on earth are they doing there? What have they got on stage with them? How are they doing this?

The second track/set is from 1977, the year they released “Cluster & Eno”, just a year after “Sowiesoso” and captures a very different Cluster, more meditative and considered, yet just as strange. The intensity is gone, replaced with a stripped down minimalism. The music is almost a pulse of sound throbbing through your cortex. Its a long way from the pastoral feel of “Sowiesoso” but I suspect Cluster are improvising at these shows and responding to their environment. In this case, the environment is probably a bare bricks and heating pipes concert room full of dope smoke and cross-legged youths – lucky bastards.

It is a testament to the potent power of the 70s German scene that they can still dig up gold like this from the tape archives and it is a testament to this music that I can still enjoy it just as much after the responsibilities of parental life have made me a person of much greater temperance than I was when I first discovered the music of Cluster! ENCORE!

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Popol Vuh – Kailash

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Harmonia – Documents 1975

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When I heard that an album of unreleased Harmonia material was coming out I was really beside myself with excitement but when I found out it was to be part of a box set containing albums I already owned at a cost way beyond my budget, I was gutted. So when I found out it was getting a release on the ultimate budget-friendly format, cassette (with a free download), the excitement kicked back in.

So what do you get? Its short and sweet. The first side begins with a new song, side two begins with an alternative version of “Deluxe” and both end with an extended jam from an early concert. At fifteen minutes per side, it never outstays its welcome.

The new song, “Tiki-Taka” sounds so much classic Harmonia that for a while I convinced myself it was an alternative version of something off “Deluxe”. It isn’t but is so clearly flowing from the same river that it would make a natural bonus track for a reissue. The alternative version of “Deluxe” is recognisable but different enough to merit your attention.

The real gold, though, is the live songs. I was always a bit underwhelmed by the Harmonia live album from a few years ago but these recordings are far more dynamic. Rother is letting rip with his guitar, the electronics are both hypnotic and out there while there appears to be a tight rhythm to both jams, with someone (Mani from Guru Guru perhaps?) letting rip on the drums around a rapid, pulsing (digital?) bass. It feels like truest collision of Neu! With Cluster. Not that the Harmonia studio albums aren’t wonderful but there they seem keen to leave their pasts behind for new worlds. Here we have a genuine distillation of their back catalogues.

The tape does come with a download code but the mp3s provided are at a low resolution of 192kbs so you do need either this cassette or the vinyl to be able to enjoy the music properly. Yes, haters, cassettes are far better sound quality than 192kbs mp3s. Speaking of sound quality, on here it is just great for both studio and live material. You know already what I am going to say – its essential. Thirty minutes of finest German vintage for your listening pleasure.

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Neu! – Neu! 2

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This is one of my favourite album covers of all time. Which might seem strange at first but there is something audacious about it, a punk take on pop art that revels in its simplicity and minimalism. It was the inspiration for the original site design of this very website (long since discarded – it wasn’t very good). The music contained on here feels just as iconoclastic at times. Although it starts off with almost stereotypical Neu! with “Für Immer” (Forver). I say stereotypical because when you think of Neu! you think of this beat, that driving motorik sound with Rother’s utopian guitar licks over the top. Its eleven minutes of bright sunny day high speed adventures and there’s no shame in that.

“Spitzenqualität” begins with a squeal of guitar and then in come the stomping drums, sounding like they were recorded in a vast, empty church. There’s a little phased guitar feedback and strange subliminal sounds coming in and out of perceptibility. It fades out by slowing down into absolute entropy, seguing straight into “Gedenkminute (für A + K)”. All we have here is the sound of desolate wind and subtle hums like a distorted church bell. Given the title translates as a minutes silence for A + K it might be a eulogy for some lost friends.

They contrast that by kicking in with “Lila Engel”, probably my favourite ever Neu! song. It gets me every damn time with its death stomp drums, fuzzed-out droning guitars and Dinger’s ecstatically deranged vocal which sounds like some sort of wordless nursery rhyme sung by a wino during a religious vision. One of my friends once said it sounded ‘satanic’ and I can understand why he might find it intimidating but it is one of those songs that as a DJ it is a joy to play because every time I hear it on a big, loud P.A. system it makes my heart race, especially when it ebbs away and then comes back harder and more distorted.gatefold

Side two is one of the most daring and cheeky things ever released. The band had run out of money to pay for studio time so they had to find a way to fill side two. Well, they had released a single called “Super” which hadn’t sold very well so took that song and it’s b-side, “Neuschee” and fucked around with them. The first track on side two, “Neuschee 78” is literally the song being played at 78rpm instead of 45! It’s very obviously a song at the wrong speed. It even skips a couple of times. Then you get “Super 16” which as you would imagine is the song “Super” played at 16rpm instead of 45. This one is much more effective, sounding so sinister that it ended up being used in classic martial arts film “Master of the Flying Guillotine” and plays every time the villain of the title appears. Once you have seen that film, you will think of him every time you hear “Super 16”. This is why Quentin Tarantino used it in “Kill Bill Vol.1” .

After that, the original and unmolested version of “Neuschnee” (German for ‘fresh snow’ ) seems positively normal. It’s the old Neu! beat with some deep bassy sounds building up in pace for four minutes. “Cassetto” (the German word for cassette) is the sound of what might be “Hallogallo” from their first album being played in a dodgy cassette player which is chewing it up. Anyone of a certain age will remember that horror so it is interesting to be able to experience the sound without the associated feelings of panic and horror as you ran to the machine to save your music from destruction. It is another molestation that works, the distortion being quite hypnotic.
“Super 78” is another speed up but as its for quite a wild song, it is more fun than the previous speed up and can be enjoyed although it is very silly. “Hallo Excentrico!” would appear to be “Hallogallo” being played too slow on two different record players at once and the spinning of the decks being occasionally interfered with. It seems to have then been transferred to cassette and the cassette played back and interfered with. Its more nonsense but not actually alienating, it is still enjoyable in a mad and rowdy way.

The finale is the normal version of “Super” which is a great song and deserved to have been more successful. Dinger growling away while madly thrashing the drums and Rother getting quite heavy. It seems almost silly to call it ‘normal’ but that is only in comparison to the previous experiments, it is far from ordinary and a great climax to a timeless album.

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Amon Düül II – Yeti

Yeti the dog meets Yeti

Yeti the dog meets Yeti

“Yeti” is an iconic album in every sense. It ticks all the right boxes from its cover artwork, which adorned the front of Julian Cope’s scene-stirring book “Krautrocksampler” to the timeless songs that regularly find their way into my DJ sets because they always please the people. It is a classic all the way and not just within its genre. The website besteveralbums.com, which claims to have aggregated over 20,000 different greatest albums charts, puts it at 43 in its chart for 1970, which may not sound particularly high until you consider who else was releasing albums in that year. It ended up between The Rolling Stones and Joni Mitchell.

Hitting the ground running, it opens up with the frenetic rhythms of the thirteen minute “Soap Shop Rock” cycle. It is described as being four songs but feels like one long ever shifting song and even ends with the same breakdown it began with. Chris and Renate share the lead vocals and shifting gear all the time, their voices ghostly and almost operatic.

Side two opens with the timeless “Archangels Thunderbird”, a storming rock song that makes you want to grab your hairbrush and sing into it while shaking your butt to those chunky drums. However, the next song “Cerberus” is a guitarists bonanza with all the stringers furiously strumming away like an amphetamine American primitive with bongos. Nothing can quite prepare you for the psychedelic Dalek explosion of “Eye-Shaking King” with its guitar intensity and crashing rhythms.

People often talk about Can’s “Tago Mago” as being a radical format for an album but here a year earlier we have the exact same thing: a double LP with one the first record featuring more conventional song based music and the second disc featuring just wild improvisations. OK, the second disc of “Yeti” has nothing as paint-strippingly nuts as “Aumgn” but it is all improvised jams and sees them getting their furthest from tradition and harkening more to the original Amon Düül with even a few members of the other collective joining in for the final jam, “Sandoz in the Rain”.

Sumptuous vinyl and CD reissues of “Yeti” have been in abundance ever since a new generation discovered the innovative 1970’s German music scene so you really should have at least one copy of this album in your collection. It is no exaggeration to describe “Yeti” as a cornerstone of the German cosmic sound.

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Popol Vuh – Affenstunde

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It begins with the sound of a sunny day for a few moments and then after a big splash and a few drips we go down the electronic rabbit hole into a listening wonderland. For their debut album, Popol Vuh are very much an electronic band, closer to the stranger parts of their score for “Aguirre” than to the beautiful, almost classical music they would soon embrace. Here they are conjuring strange dreamscapes out of their analogue technology.

Side one begins with curious, aquatic dreamscapes and sudden electronic chimes that seem to approach and disappear like passing vehicles. This strange and mysterious series of sound waves suddenly morph into a dense ethnic percussion jam, not loud or heavy but an intricate arrangement of many unusual sounds. From then on, it becomes particularly ghostly, almost intersecting with the mellower parts of the Radiophonic Workshop’s early output but with a sense of peace replacing their science fiction alienation.label
The album is one that is experienced very differently between the vinyl version and the CD version. For the listener to the vinyl, it feels like one long extended piece on each side but when you go digital, what was once side one is split into tracks but how it gets split does vary between different CD versions! One version lists it all as being called “Ich Mache Einen Spiegel” and split it into three tracks, “Dream Part 4”, “Dream Part 5” and “Dream Part 49” but other versions make “Ich Mache Speigel” the first track followed by the various Dream parts. Still, the remastering seems nice although I am a bit puzzled why one release decided to stick side A of “In den Gärten Pharaos“ as a bonus track, although it does flow well I will concede.

While the moog-focused palette of sounds is very different to what we would associate with Popol Vuh, Florian’s distinctive creative voice does shine out. It is a thoughtful, meditative album and he somehow imbues the electronics with his interests in Eastern spirituality. It has a concentrated serenity quite unlike any other early electronic music apart from perhaps Pauline Oliveros. Like Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and The Scorpions, this is a debut album that doesn’t quite fit in with the bands general image and provides unexpected delights (or shocks if you are a purist!)
affenstunde back

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