HARALD GROSSKOPF – SYNTHESIST

He drummed for a lot of folks in the 70s such as Ash Ra Tempel, Cosmic Jokers, Klaus Schulze and Wallentstein but in 1980 he stepped up to the front and, as the name suggests, hit them synths. Yet the drummer in him wouldn’t sleep and while the the cosmic space landscapes and pastoral sunsets he draws with the keys are certainly not radical by previous German standards, his unique light but firm rhythms on them propel them into a deeper realm touching almost upon deep house and blissful techno.

As with his friend Manuel Göttsching’s classic “E2-E4” album, this is one that gets more love from the Balearic/chill-out crowd than the krautrock heads. Its not hard to see why, nothing on this album would be out of place in both a late-night immersive ambient evebt or a beachside sunset session. There’s still some weirdness, “Trauma” wouldn’t be out of place to the sight of Peter Davison’s Doctor Who walking the barren desert beneath an alien sky while watched by inhuman eyes from behind the rocks. We’re a world away from the full on LSD-inspired madness of 70s krautrock but the beauty, futurism and motorik rhythms are still here.

The music is every bit as arresting as that classic cover of him covering in silver paint, except for the 40th anniversary edition on German label Bureau B they’ve changed the color to gold to celebrate the landmark. The Bureau B version is also expanded into a double album of remixes from German artists such as Harald’s regular collaborator Steve Baltes of Ashra, later day members of Tangerine Dream and Camera. They all keep rigidly to the spirit of the original album with tight rhythms, space age synth and a cosmic sense of restraint.

“Synthesist” is both a world away from his work as a Cosmic Courier and at the same time the logical continuation of it. In the modern world there are hundreds of cassettes and LPs releases of cosmic synth music but this is still the Grandfather of them all and the well from which the water flows. Drink it up straight from the source.

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Rodeleius – Tape Archive Essence 1973-1978

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Can – Out Of Reach

Review by Stuart Douglas

Yeah, it’s that Can album. The one with no Holger. The one that nobody had a good word to say about for years. The one Can themselves disowned.

And, before Ned starts to panic, I’m not about to sit here and claim it’s an unjustly neglected work of genius. Late era Traffic bassist Rosko Gee – who wrote all the songs, provides the vocals and plays Holger’s bass throughout, like some Jamaican Denis Waterman – is not a singer and there’s nothing on here which would ever be included in anyone but his mum’s Can Top 10. But it’s not unlistenable.

As literally ever reviewer ever has already said, it’s lacking the freeform grooviness of Can’s best work and missing the lyrical and vocal madness provided by Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki (witness Gee’s vocal on the second track on side 1, ‘Pauper’s Daughter and I’, where he tries his best to sound like one or other of them and fails miserably). But there is stuff to like in here, even if there’s nothing actually to love.

The album opens pretty well with the jazzy instrumental ‘Serpentine’, featuring some great guitar work from Michael Karoli, but sadly that’s followed up the disco sounds of ‘Pauper’s Daughter’. Yes, Can do disco! Which should be great, but inexplicably really, really isn’t. The final track on side 1, ‘November’ is another Latinesque jazz instrumental, which goes on a bit too long and veers a bit too close to Santana (by no means the only song to do so on Out of Reach) for my liking – but there’s some nice piano work and Gee’s bass playing is actually pretty decent here which means that compared to some of the horrors on side 2, it’s a thing of beauty.

So much for side 1. So what’s so terrible about side 2?

Well, it starts off bland, which is something I never thought I’d say of Can, with the band launching into full on Prog by Numbers in opening track ‘Seven Days Awake’, then wandering into ‘Give me no Roses’ with more Gee vocals. I actually don’t mind this slightly disco, slightly funk, pretty MOR nothing of a song. But while it’s certainly not the worst song on the album, it’s the least Can song in their back catalog, just a vapid slice of nowt much.

Sadly, ‘Like INOBE GOD’, which is up next, actually has been described as the worst Can song of all time. It’s a contender certainly, with it’s weird Latin dance/calypso backing and Rebop Kwaku Baah (the other newish arrival from Traffic) half muttering, half singing his ‘wordmelody’ (yes, that’s exactly how’s it’s described on the back cover) somewhere in the sludgy mix.

And finally we limp to the end of the only album not to get a plush cd re-release on Spoon in either 19899 or 2006,with ‘One More Day’, actually starts promisingly with some decent drumming and spacey sounding synth noises, but then fades away into silence, just as I was beginning to hope the album would go out with a bang.

I’ve no idea why this album is called ‘Out of Reach’, incidentally, but I like to think it’s due to a moment of self-awareness, when Mr Gee realised that without Holger Czukay any attempt to replicate the Can sound was…you guessed it…

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Edgar Froese – Epsilon In Malaysian Pale

Review by James Jackson Toth

1975’s Epsilon in Malaysian Pale is the second solo album by Tangerine Dream’s Edgar Froese, recorded piecemeal over a single summer in various German cities. It was released, impressively, in the months between Tangerine Dream’s landmark 1974 album Phaedra and 1975’s Rubycon.

Using a limited sound palette of field recordings, modular and semi-modular analog synthesizers, and a great deal of mellotron, Froese—inspired by his travels to Malaysia and beyond during Tangerine Dream’s 1975 Australian tour—creates, in just over thirty minutes, a panoramic, exotic fever dream that has influenced everyone from Bowie, who credits the album as a chief inspiration on his Berlin trilogy, to legions of modern day electronic artists trafficking in tropical Fourth World fug.

The title track begins with what sounds like a scrambled radio transmission of a flock of chirping birds chasing a locomotive before giving way to the airy, processed flute and mellotron that together provide the piece’s melodic anchor. Just as various themes and motifs begin to emerge from this tranquil but deceptively ominous bedrock, the distant train returns, and we find ourselves in a new and strange environment: the flute and mellotron now vie for space with phased simulated strings and the kind of percolating, bubbling step sequence with which Froese and his legendary group are synonymous. The piece concludes, far too soon, with a seemingly unrelated coda that more than hints at Froese’s post-1977 work scoring seemingly every third Hollywood film soundtrack.


As beautiful as the title track is, “Maroubra Bay”—which, like the title track, takes up an entire LP side—is, for my money, the draw here, and one of Froese’s most original and evocative works. Inspired by the Sydney beachside suburb of its title, the track begins with a herald of dissonant and dense tones that recall some of Giacinto Scelsi’s more bone-chilling choral work. Soon, however, the clouds part to reveal the sweetly anthropic sound of the EMS synthesizer (few artists in the history of electronic music have managed to make synthesizers sound as organic as Froese). The soft, elemental sounds that occasionally wash over (but never drown out) the mesmerizing, propulsive sequencer and hide-and-seek mellotron masterfully conjure an imaginary three dimensional space. While the piece strongly recalls the Tangerine Dream work of this period—Rubycon, in particular—there is something distinctly surreal and transitive about “Maroubra Bay,” an unlikely masterpiece that seamlessly blends composed machine music and musique concrete. There is nothing in Froese’s vast catalog quite like it.

There are Tangerine Dream fans who feel that Froese’s solo work during this period is redundant and therefore inessential; I am decidedly not among these naysayers. In fact, my feeling is that the absence of then bandmates Peter Baumann and Chris Franke allows Froese’s particular talents and affinities to shine all the brighter, especially when we are spared, as we are on Epsilon in Malaysian Pale, his oft-derided guitar playing.

In the mid 2000s, Froese controversially re-released Epsilon in Malaysian Pale in dramatically altered form, with a new mix, new cover art, and—most scandalously—new overdubs. While I am not as appalled as others in the Tangerine Dream community by the results of this and similarly blasphemous tinkerings by its creator, I do believe that locating the original mix, which as of this writing can only be heard in full on the original vinyl edition and on 2012’s Solo (1974-1983): The Virgin Years box set, is crucial.

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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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