Teacher, feminist, krautrock connoisseur, anime enthusiast, player of video games, occasional modder, intermittent blogger

Kamasutra (o.s.t.), by Can / Irmin Schmidt (2009)

The Inner Space - KamasutraAccording to The Can Book, the band did not hit upon their name until December 1968; and music included in this soundtrack was recorded a month before that. And so Kamasutra is credited to Irmin Schmidt & Inner Space Production. Indeed, none of the musicians involved in the recording are mentioned in the sleeve notes, which instead summarise the contents of the obscure German film. Only Malcolm Mooney, and one Margarete Juvan, receive any credit, and only because they sing on one track each.

And in a way, that's fair enough. This is, after all, proto-Can, Can before they found their groove and identity. In some ways, the music here resembles some of the entries in their occasional Ethnic Forgery Series, but that's not quite fair, as the most of the EFS pieces which have been released are decidedly tongue-in-cheek—they're 'forgeries', after all—while the ethnic elements appropriated here are played more conventionally. Both the ethnic elements and the rock elements sound fairly typical of the sound of the late 60's, and so unrepresentative of Can themselves. That's not to say the album is of no interest to a Can fan; it's just a recording of the band in their earliest stages of development. And at several points I thought I heard references to later pieces, riffs or rhythms which would soon make their way onto record in a different form.

It's also interesting to hear David Johnson's flute playing here; if I remember correctly, there were only a couple of points on Unlimited Edition where we've heard it before. To be sure, that flute is what part of what makes the album not quite sound like Can; but this was apparently the only time when the six musicians of Inner Space played together, and it's a fascinating insight into the band's development.
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Verdict: Much as I appreciate this release, it's hard to rate the album higher than Decent. Dedicated Can fans may consider this to be an essential part of their collection, but anyone else is not likely to be impressed.

[Review also posted on rateyourmusic]

Livemiles, by Tangerine Dream (1988)

Tangerine Dream - LivemilesUntainted by any hint of nostalgia, I've just listened to the album for the first time. One of the words often used in connection with Livemiles is 'warm', and that seems appropriate to me. In a way that's surprising, because all those keyboards and computers were typically thought to lead to soulless music (in part Kraftwerk's influence, no doubt). But warm this album is, while thankfully avoiding being too drippy or saccharine.

Despite that, Livemiles is still basically wallpaper, or coffee-table music. It doesn't challenge, it doesn't really excel, it doesn't excite. It does what it does well—and warmly—but it never even attempts to scale the heights of previous Tangerine Dream albums, live or otherwise. For its time, and its place in the band's discography, it's pretty good; but that's like saying it's the best of a bad bunch, or the lesser of many evils.

To be fair, I probably will listen to Livemiles again; somehow, I see the point. I wish it was a more interesting point, but at least it has one.
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Verdict: Not really good, but not a total waste either. Still, the album probably represents the point at which I part company with Tangerine Dream.

[Review also posted on rateyourmusic]

Underwater Sunlight, by Tangerine Dream (1986)

Tangerine Dream - Underwater SunlightWay back when, I used to listen to a compilation of Tangerine Dream which, bizarrely, contained a single track from their pre-Phaedra records, and then material from nearly a decade later, skipping their Virgin years entirely. It made for a weird mix—krautrock experimentation rounding out a selection of 80's electronica.

In the early 90's, of course, the 80's were not so far away, and I had not yet come to a) despise the 80's as the worse decade of music in the entire history of the universe, and b) love early krautrock. And so I thought the two-part (and side-long) 'Song of the Whale' was pretty damn epic and pretty damn fine. Twenty years later, I decided to pick up the remastered edition of Underwater Sunlight, the original album containing that piece.

The problem is, in the end, that I've delayed so long in picking that album up because I've been testing how far my patience with Tangerine Dream goes. I love the pure krautrock years of the band, and I like most of the Virgin period a great deal. But by the time we hit the 80's, my interest begins to wane; there are just too many synths, too much New-Ageiness, too many soundtracks. Though I appreciate that the band were still capable of putting out side-long tracks on both studio and live albums, the overall feeling I get from them at this point is of pastiche rather than progress.

And so 'Song of the Whale', while clearly the best thing on Underwater Sunlight, is far away from what I really want to hear from Tangerine Dream. To be sure, after all this time, I still know the whole track note-for-note, and the Big Guitars™ which turn up about half way through each part of it do remind me of what my younger self liked about this, bombast notwithstanding. But it no longer captures my imagination—musical or otherwise—in the way it did, and I've never been very susceptible to nostalgia (in the sense of liking what I used to like because I used to like it).

The rest of the album is increasingly worse, gradually dropping the guitar solos and devolving electro-pop, with the bonus 'Dolphine Smile' representing just how far Tangerine Dream had fallen by this point.
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Verdict: I considered being lenient towards this, given the nostalgia I said I wasn't affected by. But I can't. Underwater Sunlight is simply Bad. The only time I'm ever likely to listen to it again is on a Tangerine Dream marathon, and then only to make myself sad about how good they used to be.

[Review also posted on rateyourmusic.]

E2-E4, by Manuel Göttsching (1984)

Manuel Göttsching - E2-E4 Clearly way ahead of its time, that's for sure.

Recorded 1981, released in 1984, E2-E4 was arguably the first recognizable trance album (I say arguably because I don't know of any other contender, but could be proved wrong). In some ways following on from where 1974's  Inventions for Electric Guitar left off, E2-E4 is a single 59 minute track, composed principally of electronic rhythms. For the first 30 minutes it builds and builds, adding more instruments and variations until a solo guitar enters the scene. At that point, for my taste, the album becomes a little less impressive: the guitar somehow never quite takes off, and I prefer the moments when it falls into playing rhythm and lets the electronics carry the melody (such as it) is. Also, although it continues to vary, the background electronic rhythm more often becomes just that: a background to the guitar in the foreground.

Personally, I like it less than Inventions: it's perhaps just that little bit too long, that little bit too monotonous, with a little bit too much guitar noodling, to reach quite the same level. That being said, E2-E4 is still a landmark album in modern (electronic) music.
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Verdict: I'll say it's Very Good, but it should really be in anyone's collection, unless you're the kind of person who despises all forms of electronic music.

[Review also posted on rateyourmusic]

Aufbrüch! (2009)

 - Aufbrüche! Die Umsonst & Draussen Festivals 1975-1978An impressive collection, no question about it. The box set includes the four original Umsonst & Draussen releases in re-mastered form, accompanied by a booklet containing articles and photos (most of which are available on the official release site). You can also download the albums individually from iTunes (the German store, at least).

Most of the music is in the kraut-funk style of mid-to-late 70's Embyro, which is no surprise since they were involved in setting up the festival in the first place. The first album contains perhaps the most krautrock-orientated pieces, but is unfortunately marred by the mastering being done from an LP release (the original tapes were missing). The sound improves considerably with the second album, and although the music is more focused on kraut-funk, it makes for a more consistent listen. The third and fourth releases are both double-albums, over 90 minutes each, and diversify the range of music somewhat. That's good in one way, but certainly makes them feel more like compilations that the second album.

Very few of the recordings are available elsewhere (Embryo's 'Wir sind alle politische Gefangene' was released on the re-master of Apo-Calypso as 'Prisioneri Politici'), and most of the bands are pretty obscure. That said, a large proportion of the bands involve musicians from better-know bands; some 67 minutes of the 4 1/2 hours of music feature Missus Beastly and various off-shoots, for example. Six tracks (from four bands) involve Marlon Klein of Dissidenten, who also is responsible for the re-mastering of the albums. And that's quite aside from the various Embryo-related projects. Obscure some of these formations may be, but there's no lack of musicianship.

On the (slightly) negative side, the CDs don't exactly follow the original releases—there's no way the third and fourth albums would fit onto single CDs. So all the albums (except the first) are split across at least two CDs, which breaks whatever continuity the originals had. It's better than leaving tracks off, and at least you can import the tracks into iTunes (or whatever) and make your own playlists. Also, the promotional artwork that you might see around is slightly misleading: in my edition at least, the cardboard sleeves containing the CDs are generic and do not show the original album art. That's slightly disappointing in an otherwise well-made box set.

All in all, this is a set which is greater than the sum of its parts, or at least than the individual songs it includes. Perhaps one more for the fans (of Embryo and later Missus Beastly in particular) than the casual listener, it's nevertheless a great overview of the alternative festival scene in Germany at the time.
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Verdict: Very good, especially for anyone interested in mid-70's krautrock.

[Review also posted on rateyoumusic]

In Autumn…, by Faust

I have to say, I'm less than convinced. When I bought this box set I was overjoyed: the last recording Faust released was their great collaboration with Dälek in 2004, and I was looking forward to hearing what they'd been up to since then. Such a generous offering (3 CDs and a DVD) seemed just what I needed. But these concerts, taken from a UK tour in late 2005, are not the Faust I'm used to, and are far from what I wanted. In essence, on these recordings you're listening to Faust III, and they bear little resemblance to the Faust who have been releasing albums for the past decade, after a 20-year hiatus. Gone is the seemingly organic industrial experimentation: it's been replaced by tired rehashes of past hits. Most of the tracks have unfamiliar names, and say that they are 'inspired' by Faust songs, but don't be fooled: for the most parts they are just extended jams around old riffs, and there isn't really much inspiration to be found anywhere. For the first time, Faust sound like ageing hippies.

That's not to say In Autumn… is really all that terrible, although admittedly the audio quality is pretty poor. It just sounds like the kind of thing you'd expect a band to produce on a thirty-year reunion: a pale echo of former glories. There's a bit of weirdness thrown in for good measure, and the best things on here are the completely new improvisations. But when, just a year before these recordings, Faust were pretty much cutting edge, In Autumn… comes as a shock to the system.

Recommended only if you have no idea what Faust have been doing since 1975, and you think that So Far and IV are the best things the original band recorded.

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