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.

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!)
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Kraftwerk

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The first three Kraftwerk albums have never been reissued and never remastered for CD (at least officially). Because of this, they feel like a secret history of the band, a very different Kraftwerk to the band that cut those classic electropop albums. On these albums, they are more in tune with their krautrock peers and nowhere more so than on this, their self-titled debut album.

The line-up is just Ralf and Florian accompanied by a drummer. On side one Andreas Hohmann drums. By side two he has gone (jumped or pushed? We don’t know but his next move was to join Ralf & Florian’s former bandmates from The Organisation to form Ibliss) and future Neu! man Klaus Dinger sits behind the kit.
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There are two tracks on each side of the LP. Side one opens with the distinctive “Ruckzuck”. The track, with its catchy flute melodies, growly electronics and motoric drumming, was one they played on German TV with previous band The Organisation and it remained in their live sets right up to the Autobahn tour. The second track on side one, the much longer “Stratovarius” goes through some more abstract electronic passages but comes back to the rapid fire drumming and some chunky riffs which might be on a distorted organ but sound very much like some roughly treated electric guitar.
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Over to side two and the promise of some wildman Klaus Dinger drumming is delayed by the wild swirls of sound that open up “Megaherz”. It is total madness that gives way to peaceful organ drones and Florian whips out his flute again to blow gently along. Its almost pastoral stuff and worlds away from their futurist fantasies to come.

The killing blow arrives last, though, in the form of “Von Himmel Hoch”. To begin with, there is an extended opening of insane electronics sounding like the Radiophonic Workshop manipulating recordings of air raids. Its all a big tease, however, and eventually Dinger begins to hit his kit like he hates it and the drums and electronics build up in pace before exploding into a giant, monstrous electronic funk wig-out that still remains unsurpassed in music. Its now become a permanent fixture in my DJ sets when I play out with vinyl.
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If you like Kraftwerk’s well-known albums but don’t enjoy the classic krautrock sound then there is nothing for you to see here. However, any lover of quality experimental rock music or rowdy electronics really needs to hear this classic album.

Organisation – Tone Float

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Frankly, I’m not much of a Kraftwerk fan, so to me the Organisation record is more precious than any of the music Florian Schneider and Ralf Huetter recorded in the years following. “Tone Float” (recorded as a five-piece-band with Basil Hammoudi, Butch Hauf and Fred Monicks) was released by RCA in the UK in 1970 and according to online sources it wasn’t much of a hit, so the label decided to sack the band that disbanded soon after being dropped.

The music on “Tone Float” is pretty much the opposite to Kraftwerk’s aesthetics. There’s none of the modernist technophilia that defines Kraftwerk – so compared to its successor’s futuristic body of work “Tone Float” is much more identifiable to the period it was recorded in. Using the typical myriad of instruments (organ, bells, violin, congas, bongos, guitars, bass, maracas, tambourine, flute,… ) it’s a psychedelic jam-based music that sits somewhere between early instrumental Pink Floyd and an electrified version of Limbus 3. The overall feeling of “Tone Float” is mellow, relaxed and a bit ramshackle here and there.

I don’t know much about the background story of “Tone Float”, but it is one of the first albums Conny Plank recorded and the band itself sounds a bit like if everyone included in the process is searching for his own and unique way of individual musical expression while recording the whole thing. “Tone Float” consists of tentative improvised music – sometimes a bit out of focus, maybe, but the Organisation didn’t have the time to develop their musical language because they broke up after the release of their debut recording and therefore the musical search came to an abrupt end after its first steps had been documented on “Tone Float”.

Nowadays “Tone Float” is mostly overshadowed by its successor, but if you feel a bit uncomfy (like I do) with the cool/cold aesthetics of Kraftwerk in general, you may opt for Organisation instead and be rewarded with a warm and trippy “Tone Float” session.
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review by Holger Adam

Bernd Witthüser – Lieder von Vampiren, Nonnen und Toten

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“If I’d perform in front of miners and sing about how we’d sweat because of the exhausting mining-work the miners they’d laugh about me, since I haven’t gone to work for more than two years.” Bernd Witthüser refused to be received as a political folk-singer for the working class.

From 1964 up to 1969 a folk-festival at “Burg Waldeck” (in the Hunsrück mountains) played an important role for the development of a musical underground in post-WW-II-Germany. The music performed there offered an alternative to the German “Schlager” and was influenced by the American and French folk music but even more important than that musical references was a very strong Marxist tradition that the new generation connected with (Berthold Brecht functioned as an important role model). Not unlike Pete Seeger in the U.S. folk music was considered to be not only the voice of the people but something to educate people with, raise people’s consciousness, teach them about society etc.: “We shall overcome”…

That highly political (and arrogant at times) approach often led to controversial events. Not unlike Pete Seeger attacking Dylan’s amplification with an axe, there were similar incidents at “Burg Waldeck”. For example there was the time Rolf Schwendter disturbed Reinhard May’s concert with a snare drum, because May’s songs weren’t political enough for Schwendter’s taste.

As a result to the politicised/political climate during the late 1960’s the festival turned out to be dominated by discussions and teach-ins and all these incidents/discussions during these years were as necessary as self-centered: On the one hand the festival and its music/musicians worked as an instrument to politicise people – on the other hand the privileged middle-class kids had to learn that the “revolutionary subject” (i.e. the working class) they were talking about/looking for was somewhere else: at work – and not at a hippie-festival in the Hunsrück mountains. As a consequence in 1969 the preaching to the converted came to an end (the festival was put on hold until 1973) and the folk-music-scene disbanded and headed off to different shores.

Some of the folk musicians referred to the psychedelic music as a druggy escape-route from a reality that needed to be changed (and because of drug-use remained unchanged), some referred to the psychedelic aesthetics as a way to enter the doors of perception – as a first step towards a new society. The crucial point (still): is smoking pot revolutionary or counter-revolutionary behaviour?
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By 1968 Bernd Witthüser had already had some local success as a protest-singer, but he didn’t want to sing about mining when his everyday life was more about smoking pot and reading poetry. It seemed ridiculous to him.

Instead of performing the “working class hero” he chose to sing about vampires, nuns and the dead. Influenced by medieval and romantic poetry (like Novalis and Heinrich Heine) he recorded a gothic-folk or folk-noir record for Rolf Ulrich Kaisers Ohr-label (with whom he had also worked before when he managed the “Essener Songtage” in 1968). But it wouldn’t be a Witthüser (& Westrupp is on board already, too) record without a good measure of goofy jokes included: The last song on the record is an adaption of the theme tune from the TV-series “Flipper” and until that last song a lot of – more or less – funny wordplays and gags come with a lot of the songs on “Lieder von Vampiren, Nonnen und Toten”.

But the all in all frivolous approach is a good thing, actually. Otherwise “Lieder von Vampiren, Nonnen und Toten” would be an unbearable proto-neo-folk-disaster. But Bernd and Walter had a reefer once in a while and their daily dose of Marihuana kept them away from turning into morbid youngsters longing for death.

It’s quite difficult to write about the music on “Lieder von Vampiren, Nonnen und Toten” without thinking of the lyrics all the time. And being a native speaker of the German language I wonder how the record is received if you don’t get the lyrics (which is – the other way round – in 99,9% the case for all the Anglo-American music “Krauts” listen to). “Lieder von Vampiren, Nonnen und Toten” is a lovely, unadorned folk music record garnished with a lot of humour and a slightly psychedelic vibe. Mostly guitar and voice, with a bit of percussion, a flute, a trombone and stuff like that here and there. Imagine Cheech & Chong singing Current 93.

After “Lieder von Vampiren, Nonnen und Toten”, Witthüser & Westrupp went on to perform and record as a duo and they released three studio-records (“Trips und Träume”, “Der Jesuspilz” und “Bauer Plath”) and a live-record (“Live ’68-’73”). It’s all about smoking pot, making fun of authorities, daydreaming and enjoying life, basically. Not sure, if this can be considered as a revolutionary agenda, but for a few years it seemed to work – and they both remain swinging until this day!
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review by Holger Adam

Brainticket – Cottonwoodhill

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“Cottonwoodhill” is perhaps most notorious for carrying a warning in the inner sleeve that you should “Only listen once a day to this record. Your brain might be destroyed” and for it’s drug-endorsement on the back cover. Also the face on the cover looks a bit like that of an inflatable sex doll bar having teeth. So, with all the trippy, distorted imagery on the cover, you are left expecting some way-out improvised noise rock. Yet, it kicks off with “Black Sand” which sounds like a tough-edged Booker T & The MGs, albeit with weirdly distorted vocals and a more Hendrix-inspired school of guitar riffs. With the storming organ and vibrant rhythms, it’s not hard to see why fans of rare grooves have been seeking after this one just as much as psyche, prog and kraut heads.

Brainticket rose from the ashes of a jazz group and it certainly shows on this album. “Places of Light” is another jazz-dance classic with mellow flutes, slow funky rhythms and strange hissing rhythms. We also get our first clear taste of vocalist Dawn Muir doing some decadent, whacked-out vocals. She has the classic cut-glass English accent but also sounds outrageously bohemian in a manner that always fascinates and never grates. cottonwoodinner However, the real mind-dose comes halfway through side 1 when a collage of sirens, drills and other found sounds herald the start of “Brainticket Part 1”. This epic track goes all the way through to the end of side two, based around the same heavy groove over and over again. This never-ending looped funk provides a backbeat for some wild sound experiments. Samples of cheering crowds, subway trains and some very warped electronics. This is the real trip. The electronics fizz and buzz and hum right through your brain, never repeating the same trick twice. A wall of percussion pounds away just about perceptible in the mix. Dawn Muir delivers a terrifyingly intense vocal performance which sounds like she’s having an orgasm while she utters a shamanic sermon on life.

“Part 1” ends with a snatch of Beethoven then we get a second or twos silence and then the riff starts up again for “Part 2”. Now Dawn sounds furious about something (whilst still sounding like a sex kitten on acid) and the electronics begin to get really weird, sounding like a fleet of UFOs landing in a Blue Note session. There’s a freaky fade-out to a fizzed-out voice going “BRAINTICKET” over and over before the grooves fade back into our ears.

By the time it ends, your brain really will have been taken out of your head and for a spin. For all it’s hard funk edges, “Cottonwoodhill” really is a wildly tripped out record too.
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Limbus 4 – Mandalas

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Bernd Henninger, Gerd Kraus and Gerd “Odysseus”Artner recorded as Limbus 3 (“New Atlantis“, 1969) before releasing “Mandalas”as a quartet with second percussionist Matthias Knieper. In 1971 the project fell apart.

The music on both records is heavily influenced by ethnic music styles from all over the world, mainly African and Indian music. It’s an all acoustic and fully improvised affair: Viola, Percussion and various exotic instruments that Kraus got from friends who travelled foreign continents and brought tablas, a sitar, a bul-bul tarang, different kinds of pipes and other stuff to the hippie-commune based in Heidelberg back then.

When I first listened to “Mandalas”, I was struck by how fresh the music sounded. It instantly reminded me of improvising collectives like Wooden Wand & The Vanishing Voice, Sunburned Hand Of The Man or the No-Neck Blues Band and if you dig your “Gypsy Freedom“, “Jaybird”or some “Dutch Money”– Limbus 4 (and 3) is something to go for. Of course, if you’re familiar with some of the Ocora catalogue then the Heidelberg-Hippies might be something up your alley, too!

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There’s a strong communal and somewhat spiritual vibe to the music and according to Gerd Kraus the aim was to share that communion with the audience: “It was important to create a meditative atmosphere. To get in the right mood, to empathise on the very moment was most important at the beginning of every concert we played. Sometimes a tea ceremony would mark the start of a concert – and from there we’d try to proceed, try to create something sensitive, always based on improvisation and a certain flow.”

Another strong influence can be found in German mystics like Jakob Boehme. And so it’s not surprising that the four guys pictured on the inside of the gatefold look like country-styled Renaissance paupers – but with tablas. A pretty charming bunch, if you ask me.

Some educated digression: German mysticism was a strong influence on some folks back then. To connect to a German heritage that (presumably) had not been exploited by the Nazis is something that was in the air from early Burg Waldeck Festivals up to bands like Ougenweide who adopted a lot of lyrics/ideas from Hildegard von Bingen or Walther von der Vogelweide, for example. I always get edgy for a bit with that kind of genealogical research, especially when looking for artistic inspiration becomes reaching out for or rebuilding a national identity. It’s a small path to wander on and a delicate subject that is embedded in the history of Krautrock if you look at little closer: The aim of not wanting to mimic British or American beatbands and instead trying something on your own is something f-u-n-d-a-m-e-n-t-a-l-l-y different from the approach to maintain an identity as a German band. End of educated digression…

Anyway, Limbus 4 did a good job recording this beautiful music that is transgressing a lot of borders: “Mandalas”was World-Music before that (somewhat ugly) phrase was coined. An improvised, sensitive and delightful music that – in respect of the aforementioned collectives from the US – was ahead of its time back then and still sounds fresh.

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review by Holger Adam

Kluster – Zwei-Osterei

Some bands sell their souls to the devil, Kluster sold theirs to the church. This is probably another of those albums best enjoyed by those of us who speak little German. You see, Kluster were only able to get this and their previous record released by using a Christian label, the deal being that one side would have a religious voiceover.
It must have been a pretty liberal church, though, because those Kluster boys are banging away at the limits of sound in the background on ‘Electric Music and Text’. The authoritative voice sitting right on top of the mix with the strange, atonal electronics in the background.
Cluster fans coming here to check out the early works of Moebius and Roedelius may be a little underwhelmed at first but fans of Conrad Schnitzler will find themselves in the right place right away.
They work up an isolated cacophony of what sounds like a dieing robot flute player, a lunatic sawing at a cello and humming electrics. When it fades down to ghostly echoes and the voice returns, he has an air of told you so about him. Perhaps the band had been asked to literally raise Hell?
Then comes a wave of deep echoes that foreshadow ‘Cluster II’ but with the Schnitzler abrasiveness. However, the voice returns and by now he is really starting to sound hacked off about something. Perhaps he is cross about people who spoil great avant garde records with their pompous prattle?
Over on the second side, you get “Kluster 4” which features some of the most depraved, insane, devilish flute playing ever. It sounds like they’re on flute, guitar and percussion and abusing all three mightily. The guitar sounds like it’s being wrestled with by a gorilla on ketamine, the “percussion” is someone chucking about blocks of wood and then adding so much reverb and effects that makes it sound like a robot throwing up its own innards. It is, of course, bloody great fun.
The track then descends into ghostly echoes and tappings, like a seance gone wrong. There are foreshadowings of the abstract industrial sound of David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” soundtrack, especially towards the climax of almost mechanical dissonance.
Its hard to imagine people ever doing acid to this album and coming out unscathed. This is what sets Conrad Schnitzler’s discography apart from most of what we call “krautrock”. This is not mellow ambient music or trippy electronics. This is brave, fearless experimentalism. Not to say that this is difficult, joyless music – I get a lot out of it – but just to make clear that listening to Cluster or the second half of ‘Tago Mago’ in no way prepares you for this. This is the hard stuff.