Saturday, November 21, 2009

Whaddya Mean, Krautrock?

The recent best of '72 and French prog things got me inspired to do a Whaddya Mean, ...? post - just for Krautrock!!

Sometime around college, I heard Tago Mago (1971) and Autobahn (1974), and Big Black's cover of Kraftwerk's "The Model." But I doubt I put them all together too much.

Like quite a few musics, my full awareness of Krautock started with the Spin Alternative Record Guide (1995, OOP). In addition to entries for Can and Kraftwerk, this was appended to Faust's:
After Faust, you'll surely want to venture further into the Krautrock hinterland. Start with Neu!, a group something like Germany's Television. Combining radiant guitars with the unsyncopated symmetry of the motorik beat (also used by Kraftwerk) to create an aura of restrained elation...

Amon Duul II lay at the baroque end of the Krautrock spectrum; imagine Led Zeppelin produced by John Cale and you'll get some idea of the grandiose delights of Phallus Dei, Dance of the Lemmings, and Yeti. As for the rest... Ash Ra Temple's [sic] lysergic raga-rock and Popul Vuh's pellucid, almost Gothic instrumentals can be taken straight, but Brainticket and Guru Guru walk a precarious line between sublime and ridiculous.
If you think that didn't spark my interest, you don't know me!
(And maybe you don't, but it did.)

Around the same time and unbeknownst to me, crazy Julian Cope (of The Teardrop Explodes) was self-publishing Krautrocksampler (1995, OOP). He defined Krautrock very narrowly, as music that could not have been created anywhere but in the late '60s and '70s German rock underground. Therefore, he leaves off some landmark albums from his otherwise seminal Krautrock Top 50 list.

A couple more genre'l notes before we dig into the exemplars. The term Krautrock was originally coined by the contemporary British music press, apparently as a condescending perjorative. It gained currency when it was embraced by some of the acts themselves (especially Faust's song with that title), by John Peel, and obviously later by Julian Cope and others approvingly. Cope would definitely not include a band like Brainticket (they're Swiss), but I'm going wide.

Still, he's pretty right on: the only thing drawing together Velvet-y agit-funk and side-long synth-suites is their roots in the German youth counterculture of the '60s.

Top shelf
The seminal bands that are centrally identified with the genre. Many of their members cross over into other important Krautrock acts or made a mark solo. Band name links go mostly to All Music Guide biographies, song titles go to the best YouTube clip I could find - without repeating previously posted songs.

Amon Düül II "Eye Shaking King" [live] Yeti (1970)
Ash Ra Tempel "Amboss" [pt. 2] Ash Ra Tempel (1971)
Can (Malcolm Mooney) "You Doo Right" Monster Movie (1969)
Can (Damo Suzuki) "Paperhouse" [live] Tago Mago (1970)
Can (post-Damo) "Chain Reaction" Soon Over Babaluma (1974)
Faust "So Far" So Far (1972)
Guru Guru "Der LSD Marsch" U.F.O. (1970)
Kraftwerk (early) "KlingKlang" Kraftwerk 2 (1972)
Kraftwerk (mid) "Autobahn" Autobahn (1974)
Kraftwerk (late) "Metal on Metal" Trans-Europe Express (1977)
Neu! "Negativland" Neu! (1972)
Tangerine Dream "Origin of Supernatural Probabilities" Zeit (1972)

Popul Vuh
Second class
All of these acts show up in Cope's Top 50 albums list, but they're not the major names. For the most part, they were more experimental, shorter lived, and/or not quite as titanic as the top shelf bands.

Amon Düül I "Im Garten Sandosa" Psychedelic Underground (1969)
Cluster "Plas" - Cluster II (1972)
The Cosmic Jokers "Galactic Joke" The Cosmic Jokers (1974)
Harmonia "Dino" Musik Von Harmonia (1974)
La Düsseldorf "La Düsseldorf" La Düsseldorf (1976)
Popul Vuh "Vuh" [pt. 2] In Den Garten Pharoas (1972)
Klaus Schulze "Bayreuth Return" Timewind (1976)
Walter Wegmüller "Der Narr" Tarot (1973)

Third tier
There's some great stuff here, and some of it's way, way out there. But these are more obscure, or drifting away from what really makes the music Krautrock. Still worth checking out... if your interest hasn't already run dry.

Agitation Free "Malesch/Rücksturz" Malesch (1972)
Brainticket "Black Sand" Cottonwoodhill (1971)
Dzyan "Back to Where We Come From" Electric Silence (1975)
Eloy "Castle in the Air" Floating (1974)
Golem "The Returning" Orion Awakes (1973)
Sand "Old Loggerhead" Golem (1973)
Xhol Caravan "Pop Games" Electrip (1969)
Embryo "Radio Marrakesch/Orient Express" Steig Aus (1973):

Expanding from those included on the old 3 Who Would... Kraut post. Don't want to overdo it by including anyone I can imagine being heavily under the influence, but I'm also leaving out avowed admirers such as Radiohead, Flaming Lips, and Wilco. They just don't often sound Krautish.

Cloudland Canyon "Krautwerk" [live] Lie in Light (2008)
Fujiya & Miyagi "Cassettesingle" [live] Transparent Things (2006)
Go-Neko! "Primates" Una Especie de Mutante (2008)
Jonas Reinhardt "Modern by Nature's Reward" Jonas Reinhardt (2008)
Maserati "The World Outside" Inventions for the New Season (2007)
Space Debris "Japanese Girl" Elephant Moon (2008)
Stereolab "Les Yper-Sound" Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1996)
Tortoise "Dear Grandma and Grandpa/Along the Banks of the River" Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996)

Cloudland Canyon + Lichens
This is pretty damn cool. Is that an e-book?

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