Cluster – Cluster 71

50 years, eh? Astounding, ney unbelievable that this record is that old. When you listen to it, it still sounds like the future, whether you play it on a crackly old LP on a cheap system, the latest reissue (of course its got a 50th anniversary edition, numbered and limited on the ever reliable Bureau B) on a top end hi-fi or even if you just stream it over bluetooth, the thing still positively throbs and hums with a strange energy all of its own.

The 50th anniversary press release from Bureau B seems to poo-poo the idea of calling this music “cosmic” and while that might be a little bit of a cheap adjective, there’s still a very science fiction laboratory-grown feel to the album. The three nameless tracks being nothing short of symphonies of the strange. A wild, echoing abstraction but stripped of the industrial harshness that marked the previous collaboration as Kluster with Conrad Schnitzler.

In fact, if like most people, you worked your way back to it from the better known entries in their catalogue like “Zuckerzeit” or “Sowiesoso” its fair to say that it comes as quite a shock. My early listens were very perplexed by just how dense yet freeform it was. I struggled to reconcile it with what I had heard before. Like floating stoned around a giant machine of unknown origin.

One adjective you can always stick on Cluster with the C is “mellow” despite how alien the sounds on this one are, even to this today there’s nothing I can identify. And, yes, it would make a great soundtrack for a particular bold film set in space, so there!

Can – Live In Brighton 1975

So, the second release in this series and its the same year as the first volume. When I heard that I groaned a little but don’t worry, there’s little in common. Whereas the previous one saw them jamming out some new themes, this set the jams are touching on some familiar motifs. We get a very recognizable “Vernal Equinox”, “Dizzy Dizzy” and some explorations on theme of “Vitamin C”, though its like the free concert film when they riff on “Spoon” and “Mother Sky” in the very loosest sense.

They’re really as much wildly alternative versions of your old favorites, with plenty of fresh jamming, inspiration and Canly goodness. The tightly wound rhythm section of Jaki and Holger remains unbeatable, a luxurious foundation for Karoli & Schmidt to sketch over. Oh to only have been able to have been there!

What really kind of hammers home what strange alchemy was happening in Can’s concerts is as mentioned, that two shows from the same year with the same line-up could be such constellations apart. They’re both apparently from the same guys cassette collection but some wonder of technology has somehow again made this sound properly clear, vivid, deep and tasty.

I don’t know how many albums there’s going to be in the series but I am definitely hungry for more. This is some vintage Can magic and I want more and more and more.

Faust 1971 – 1974

I was going to hold off reviewing this until my pre-ordered copy arrived but here in America the release date is a month later than in Europe [update: now two months later], then there’s supply chain delays and a neutered post office and the lovely crew at Mutante sent me high resolution digital files to tide me over so, fuck it, let’s do it seen as how everyone else already has.

Now, all those other reviews read to me like potted histories of Faust, which is understandable. It’s a wild, salacious and fascinating tale but forgive me for bypassing that for, dear reader, I am assuming that if you are here, you know Faust. You know the story, you’re probably most likely wondering “I already have the Wumme Years box\the albums on vinyl, do I need to buy this too?

Well, spoiler alert, I’m afraid the answer is “yes” and I’ll tell you why. Amaury Cambuzat (who was actually in Faust the first time I saw them live in 2005) has gone back to the original masters and not just created new masters but actually new mixes from them. So we’re not just talking a little bit of a clean up, it’s a whole new version with vastly improved clarity and separation. Over the years I’ve played that old Wumme box and my dusty old vinyl copy of “IV” so much the music was implanted in my brain so its very disorientating to listen to these beloved songs and notice brand new details.

The guitar rowdiness on “No Harm”, the electronic fuzz on “Why Don’t You Eat Carrots?” and the bassline on “Krautrock” are all now so much more pronounced and vivid. They leap out at you. One question I’ve seen vinyl heads asking is whether or not this is a digital or analogue mix. So, once I get my vinyl box set, I’ll make a video comparing the wav file with the vinyl for the same track so you can get a feel for it.

It’s weird, one fellow scribe told me their editor won’t let them talk at all about mastering or mixing but they are skilled trades and important to how your music sounds. These albums have never sounded this good before (not that RER didn’t do an amazing job with remastering, but these new mixes are major upgrades).

However, there’s more to it than those beloved albums. There’s another three albums of (mostly) unreleased stuff. “Punkt” is the lost fifth album and rather a complete beast. It would be disingenious to suggest it hits the same heights as its predecessors as after all, the band did get arrested over unpaid studio bills before it was finished. None the less, only a little bit of it was released on the RER out-take compilations and in very different versions. You do need this.

Then we have two further albums chopped together “Faust Tapes” style from the archives, “Momentaufnahme 1” and “Momentaufnahme 2”. So, these aren’t the albums you’d bust out to try and convert someone to Faust but how could you say no to two more collections of unreleased goodies from the golden age? There are loads of lovely little moments there. including some surprises digressions into out and out cosmic synth, little folk jams and plenty of weird. It’s a fans delight and shines a lot of new light on Faust. I think I knew maybe one track from somewhere, the rest was definitely completely unheard and unreleased.

Then you got the two 7″ singles (compiled on one CD for the CD box) just to make it extra. It’s a staggering collection and it helps enormously that Bureau B charge way less than most labels do for box sets. They clearly want this in the hands of the fans, not the scalpers. Faust are such a wonderful, important band who’ve played a massive part in my enjoyment of life these last two decades and this is the box set they deserved. A tremendous achievement.

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 seems to get more love from the Balearic/chill-out crowd than the krautrock heads. Its not hard to see why, nothing on this album would not fit in with both a late-night immersive ambient event 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 in abundance.

It’s a truly joyous album and 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.

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 1989 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…

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.

Amon Düül II – Wolf City

Am

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.

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.