Posts Tagged ‘krautrock’

25th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

National Instruction is Soma Crew’s debut album. This is something of a technicality, as they rebranded shortly after the release of Another Dead Insect in 2015. And while all of the defining features of their previous incarnation remain, Soma Crew, having solidified with their current lineup, can be seen to have made marked progress since then.

The sonic haze which hangs heavy over all of their previous recordings and which defines their live sound is present and correct. On National Instruction, there’s also a wilful raggedness to the performances, with guitars and vocals titling off-kilter every which way, often to quite disorientating effect. It’s also by far the best-realised representation of what Soma Crew are about, showcasing a dense, murky sound, and a climax-centric approach to forging layered songs which plug hard at a single cyclical riff, nailed tight to a simple, repetitive drum pattern. Yet it’s also the work of a band who are evolving, and National Instruction marks a clear progression from their Soma EP release last autumn.

Si Micklethwaite’s vocal style isn’t conventionally tuneful, but then a melodic attenuation is by no means a prerequisite for singing in a rock band. Given the atonal drone elements of Soma Crew’s compositions, which are more focused on creating an atmospheric dissonance than a technically precise, melody-driven musicality, it works, and, bathed in reverb and a kind of fuzzy-edged soft-focus, he sounds more comfortable than on any release he’s featured on thus far.

‘Got It Bad’ features what is probably one of their most overtly catchy choruses to date, with a more clearly defined structure than any previous song – but it’s perfectly offset by a guitar line that heaves off to the left during one of the chord changes which launches said chorus. The nine-minute ‘Pyramids’ finds the band locking into the kind of groove they work the best. A spindly echo-drenched lead guitar wanders, spider-like over a chugging rhythm and spare, motoric beat that typifies their slow-burning brand of Black Angels-influenced psychedelic rock. Elsewhere, ‘Dangerzone’ is tense and angular, with eddying swells of abstract sound and feedback building into a cyclone of immersive noise close to the end. This is something they’ve got a real knack for.

Having heard a fair few of the cuts on Natural Instruction played live, it’s gratifying to observe just how well they’ve replicated the spirit and energy of the live sound on songs like ‘Remote Control’, which carries a shuddering, ramshackle Fall-esque vibe within its jagged two-chord battery. The album’s second eight-minuter, ‘Westworld’ starts of slow, sedate, but simmering: it’s never a case of if it’s going to break, but when, and while maintaining a pedestrian pace, it’s almost halfway through before the drums thud in. And then the guitars get up the volume… and then… and then… By the end, it’s still plodding away but the layers have built up and it’s a big old racket.

There’s something of a trickle toward the tranquil on the last two tracks, with the closer, ‘Maps and Charts’ being a particularly sedate – not to mention accessible indie tune. But rather than being an anti-climax, it reveals newly emerging facets of the bands, perhaps hinting that future releases will see them further extend their range.

 

Soma Crew - National Instruction

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Play Loud! Productions – PL063LP

Christopher Nosnibor

Mark E Smith is not Damo Suzuki. Only Damo Suzuki is Damo Suzuki. Damo Suzuki requires no introduction, of course. However, his vast and almost immeasurably influential output seems to exist almost in the ether, his own name and that of CAN being names to conjure with, but perhaps carrying more connotations than actual connection.

Suzuki’ status as an innovator and a one-off requires no comment, either. The fact he’s been going for multiple eternities, and continues to perform sets that are completely off the wall means his reputation remains unharmed, and this release – one more addition to already impressive body of work which essentially stands to define Krautrock – won’t dent that.

As the title suggests, this set was recorded live at Marie-Antoinette, Berlin, Germany, on 24th November 2011. Damo Suzuki was joined on stage by a stellar lineup, consisting of Dirk Dresselhaus (Schneider TM, Angel) on electric baritone guitar and effects; Ilpo Väisänen (Pan Sonic, Angel) on electronics and effects; Michael Beckett (kptmichigan, Super Reverb) on electric guitar and effects; Claas Großzeit (Saal-C) on drums and percussion, and Tomoko Nakasato (Mio, JINN) on dance and electric rake. No, I have no idea what an electric rake is, but on vinyl, each of the album’s half-hour tracks occupies a side of the two-disc set.

Ordinarily, live releases take the best cuts, or the single best night of a tour. Dirk Dresselhaus’ comments which accompany the release suggest that this recording doesn’t necessarily follow that rule, and instead presents an honest account of a singular event: “I find it fairly difficult to say something about how the music in this concert came about, cause we didn’t plan or rehearse anything and hardly were able to hear each other on stage. Wherever it came from, the energy and course of this concert is very much based on group dynamics and an almost telepathic sort of communication, like a swarm of fish. When I mixed the sound later on in the studio I discovered a lot of weird things on the separate tracks: for example Kptmichigan’s guitar signal is changing level for about +/-30 dB once in a while which is a lot and was probably caused by a broken microphone cable. Luckily the fucked up parts made the sound even heavier and more distorted instead of destroying it,” he says.

At times the lack of planning and rehearsal is apparent, but in the main, Live at Marie-Antoinette captures a collective who are capable of a rare musical intuitiveness. And whatever it may have sounded like on stage, and regardless of the occasional stab of feedback and errant extraneous intrusion, the recording captures a tense, atmospheric musical soundscape which transitions across the various parts with a creeping stealth.

To draw attention to any one passage would be to entirely misrepresent the overall arc of the performance. From the tribal chants to the undulating synth-like tones to the slow-building crescendos and the sustained sonic blitzkriegs which absolutely tear through the curtains of sonic decency, each and every aspect of the set is integral to the overall experience, which is built around a series of ebbs and flows, often rising from next to nothing to a whorling tempest quite unexpectedly. And it’s true that the colossal peaks are accentuated by the shuddering volume and crackling distortion they produce. Sometimes, fucked up is good.

This is all part and parcel of the live medium: while the studio affords total control over every aspect of every element of the sound, when playing live, anything can happen. The real test of a band’s capabilities is how they deal with the unexpected eventualities and how they deliver the show to a crowd under adverse circumstances. There is no audience sound on Live at Marie-Antoinette, which means it’s impossible to gauge the audience reaction to the show. But the sound balance suggests the audience were subjected to a punishingly loud and challenging set. It’s probably one of those rare live albums where the recording is more pleasurable than the actual event.

http://playloud.org/archiveandstore/trailers/damosuzuki/trailercode.html

 

damo-suzuki-sound-carriers-live-at-marie-antoinette

Village Green – 13th January 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

For those who aren’t down with technospeak, a ‘soft error’ is computer language for a faulty occurrence in a digital memory system that changes an instruction in a program or a data value. And so it is that the duo – known simply as Tim and Rupert, both of whom have musical backgrounds in dance music/DJ culture and composition for film, theatre and TV respectively – who make up Soft Error, strove to evoke the idea of happenstance and serendipity in the naming of their collective output.

I’ll not squander space scoffing at the middle-class connotations of a hipster electro duo called Tim and Rupert, and shall instead concentrate on the fact that Mechanism is very much an album born out of experimentalism and improvisation, and balances organisation with random, contemporary with vintage as it folds together modern electronica with classic Krautrock.

While delicate piano notes hang in the air to create a serious, ponderous air at the start of the albums first track, ‘Silberblik’, the introduction of cinematic synths, with tightly modulated oscillations and soaring sweeping expansive notes spreading to forge a richly-coloured panorama, the tone soon changes.

Mechanism demonstrates a preoccupation with contrast and evolution. Gloopy synths bibble and bubble in looping motifs to create a muzzy atmosphere. Synthetic strings sweep and slide over the busy electronic sequences, and it’s this juxtaposition of the (ersaz) organic and mechanical which defines the album’s sound. But Soft Error are by no means content to tie themselves to any one genre. Propelled by a classically 80s drum machine beat, and as such a much sturdier, straight- ahead groove than the album’s other tracks, ‘You Caught Up’ is a post-punk electro stormer with gothy shadows around the corners.

‘Turncoat’ brings some sturdy beats against a monotonous, undulating bass groove, and contrasts with the hypnotic sway of the desert electronica of ‘Motorbath’, which has a smooth spaceyness about it.

Surging, swelling synth abound, building rich layers of sound over interlooping, shivering shimmering rhythmic backdrops, but the tracks ae neatly clipped, trimmed and pinned back to exist within remarkably concise time-frames. And this is good: when a track locks into a grove, sometimes it’s fun to get carried away, but often, it can become tiresome. Soft Error don’t flog a groove indefinitely or push it past the six-minute mark and there’s never a sense that they’re looking to simply fill air here.

That doesn’t mean every track’s a gem: the closer, ‘Everybody Run’s is a bit of a standard, smug analogue-tweaker Krautrock dance effort, but that’s more a criticism of the soft-edged sounds used to render an accessible and rather hipsterish looping motif than the overall shape of the tune. And across the album, Soft Error show they’ve got a knack for decent tunes, as well as for textures and subtle melodies. Smarter than your average, and a whole lot less indulgent.

 

Soft Error

Essence – 9th December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

The circumstances of this release are rooted in the kind of rock mythology that usually surrounds cult acts of the 60s and 70s: the kind of band known to only a few people, but spoken of with reverence and a messianic enthusiasm which, through time, finds the band achieving a legendary status which far exceeds their actual audience.

Unusually, Expo Seventy are a post-millennium band. Formed in 2003, this album captures a brief moment in their history from around 2010, when they featured a second drummer. Expo Seventy played only a handful of shows in Kansas City, and Chicago at the Neon Marshmalow festival in this four-piece iteration. Born out of a series of experimental jams laid down in the studio for an at ‘experience’ project in Kansas which would see the funding lost and the project dropped, this release accounts for the entirety of their recorded work. Recorded over the course of three weeks, the album contains two longform movements (with the CD version featuring a third).

The first section builds a steady desert rock vibe and a simmering groove emerges. Through a succession of meandering detours, breakdowns, breaks and diversions, the track holds down a thunderous rhythm, solid, and rides through a series of sustained, surging crescendos. The twenty-six minute second movement begins as a long, slow drone, an interminable hum throbbing on some six minutes in with no sign of abatement. It’s a real patience-tester, but gradually, one becomes drawn into the textures, and then, subtly, synth notes creep into the mix. A flicker of cymbals. Around the ten-minute mark, the slow build begins to step up, rolling toms building tension: it’s only a matter of time before the wall breaks. It’s all about time. And it’s all about the double-drummer lineup. They rumble like thunder, cymbals explode over the deep, augmented drone. The third movement picks up where the second leaves off, pitching a darkly atmospheric rumble. Tribal drumming thunders while analogue synths bubble through the battering beats.

For an album of its length, not a lot happens, but then, it doesn’t need to.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning the artwork and packaging. It’s truly outstanding: not only does it capture the vintage vibe beautifully, but the heavy stock makes this release feel like something special.

http://www.exposeventy.com/

Expo Seventy

MIE – 2nd December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

 

I was pretty late to the party with Hey Colossus, being introduced by way of their seventh album, 2011’s mighty RRR. In my review at the time, I commented on the album’s diversity, noting that ‘“Teased from the Nest” drifts like a zephyr in the Colorado Desert, and “The Drang” crunches, bucks and grunts, laden with sludgy guitars with an extra layer of treble squall. It’s a fair sumary of the band’s divergent styles, and  both of those cuts feature on this fourteen-track retrospective (that’s one more track than the original cassette release in 2013, of which some  copies exist).

The press release sets the scene, and to quote seems instructive here: “In 2015 Hey Colossus released two albums on Rocket Recordings, In Black and Gold in February and Radio Static High in October. Dedicated to Uri Klangers is a look back. It’s best summed up by the 3000 words that can be found on the inner sleeve of the record, the tale begins: “The 2xLP comp that’s in your hands now was initially released on cassette by S.O.U.L for our 10th anniversary show, September 2013, about 50 tapes were made and sold on the night. We thought a BEST OF would be hilarious. We were average at that show and I’m being generous. I’d give us 5.5/10. A shame. Hacker Farm and Helm also played. It was at The Sebright Arms in London, somewhere out East…..”

This encapsulates the band’s self-effacing an anti-commercialist position perfectly. They’re outsiders, largely by choice, and that’s precisely why they’re so great. That, and the fact they’ve got some belting tunes, if you like it loud and abrasive, that is.

For those unfamiliar with the band, Hey Colossus make a serious racket, and they get right down to it on this ‘first ten years’ compilation, which draws from their myriad releases which have appeared on a host of different labels (although Riot Season and Rocket have been particularly kind). The throbbing, squalling racket of ‘War Crows’ from 2008’s Happy Birthday starts it all off. It’s an uncompromising, trebly din. ‘How to Tell the Time with Jesus’ showcases the diametric opposite side of the band: a ten-minute avant-Krautrock epic built around a looping bassline and motoric drum, it’s a droning psychedelic behemoth. It’s the first of four tracks which extend past the ten-minute mark, in contrast to explosive blasts like ‘I Am the Chiswich Strangler’, which clock in at under two, but more than compensate in blistering intensity and pace.

Following on from ‘How to Tell the Time’, ‘The Drang’ also brings the contrast. I’d forgotten just how fucking raw it was, how unproduced, what a monstrous mess of feedback and sludge. There’s a song in here? Some semblance of a rhythm? Chords?

The churning sprawl of ‘Eurogrumble PTII’ from Dominant Male (2010) draws together their squalling noise tendencies with their experimental and Krautrock leanings to produce a headsplitting kaleidoscope of feedback, and ‘Drug Widow’ is just one of the nastiest, noisiest, grungiest grinds you’re likely to hear: like Tad only heavier, sweatier, grimier and gnarlier, it’s a raging beast of a track.

‘Hot Grave’ is another chug-heavy heft of grunge rock with some bizarre twists, and is one of the tracks which perhaps gives the best indication of the birth of Hey Colossus offshoot band Henry Blacker, not least of all on account of the mangled vocals.

‘Witchfinder General Hospital’ sits alongside ‘Pope Long Haul III’ for That Fucking Tank-like wordplay titles, and this fifteen-minute behemoth is the album’s motoric centrepiece, and if acts like Hookworms spring to mind by way of a comparson, then fair enough, although a collision of Hawkwind and Dr Mix is perhaps closer to the mark when referencing this thumping monster on which squealing analogue synths shriek over something approximating The Sisters of Mercy covering ‘Sister Ray’ circa 1983.

‘Wait Your Turn’ is a doomy, sludgy, and pretty scary-sounding black metal mess: when Hey Colossus get dark, they go seriously fucking dark. This is, of course, one of the reason they’ve remained a very much underground / cult proposition: they refuse to confirm to any one style, and they’re often given to making the most unpalatably dark noise, without any concession to prettying up the sound for the benefit of a potentially wider audience.

In attempting to research the chronology nd the origins of the individual tracks, I found myself foundering, and again the press release explains why: “Included are one or two tunes from all the HC albums released 2003-2013, it also includes the Witchfinder General Hospital track (only 100 pressed on 12”). All vinyl versions of the albums from this era are long gone. The discography is a bit of a mess now, the band doesn’t fully know and the Discogs site is not much help – godspeed anyone trying to buy all the back cat.

And as much as Dedicated to Uri Klangers may be a prompt to explore the back catalogue in more detail – and righty so – it’s also a perfect summation of their output to this point. Challenging yet rewarding and as noisy as fuck, it’s niche alright, but it’s also a document of everything a cult band should be.

 

Hey Colossus - Dedicated_to_Uri_Klangers_Front_Cover

Antime – Antime#018 – 14th October 2016

James Wells

There’s something perversely apt about the fact that members of Soft Grid, Jana Sotzko and Theresa Stroetges (ala Golden Disko Ship) met in an abandoned hospital ward. The album begins with the slow, dense electro-throb of ‘Herzog on a Bus’. Hefty percussion underpins looping, layered vocals. From the mechanised murk emerges a rolling, picked guitar line, delicate and tranquil. Harmonies play a major part in the album’s overall focus and form: while there are huge ruptures of noise and bursts of dynamic drum and guitar, in places reminiscent of latter-day Swans, it’s the vocal harmonies which really captivate and provide the focal point.

The twelve-minute ‘Minus Planet’ provides the album’s towering centrepiece, with a mellow electronic pulsation reminiscent of Tangerine Dream breaking out into a surging crescendo before taking a sharp turn around the mid-point and swelling into a The stripped-back and downbeat ‘Two Barrels of Oil’ is low, slow and haunting, a sparse bassline providing the backing to near acapella vocals. The final track, ‘Corolla’ has elements of folktronica and flamenco, and again, through a kaleidoscopic Krautrock transition, the sound builds to a shimmering crescendo.

Corolla is the sound of a band who take the progressive ethos rather than the vintage 70s sound, and actually make music that’s forward-facing and inventive.

 

Soft Grid - Corolla

Veals & Geeks Records – 017 / Les Disques en Rotin Reunis – LDRR#056– 16th August 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Oh yes. Now this is something. How have I not been listening to these guys for all the years they’ve been in existence? A three-way collision between Arnaud Maguet, Vincent Epplay and Fred Bigot, they promise ‘a majestic blend of Krautrock, Thomas Pynchon, Pataphysics, a rhythm box, abuse and Persephone. On Drei Dre Drei, they deliver all of this and a whole lot more.

‘Prima Belladonna’ raises the curtain with a grand, swirling flourish, a galactically vast slow-turning cyclone of sound. From it emerges the album’s first motoric masterpiece in the form of the relentless thump of ‘Disappear in Amerika’. With a drum machine sound lifted straight outta 1978 and a drawling vocal, it’s like Kraftwerk fronted by Mark E Smith covering Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Nag Nag Nag’ – only even better and more audacious in its locked-down groove and swirling synth drones. And it gets better still: there’s a Dr Mix and the Remix vibe about the dubby ‘New Diamond day’, as whipcracking synthetic snare drum sounds reverberate in a sea of echo in the company of woozy drones and a slow, swampy, spaced-out bass.

The minimalist robotic groove builds a piston-pumping pace on ‘Je Plaure une Lotte’, the dalek-like vocal bringing another element of dislocation to the already disjointed party. The album’s second extended motoric workout, ‘Bongo Bongo Bongo’ is a magnificent counterpart to ‘Disappear in Amerika’, being another Fallesque behemoth that grinds a more overly electro, bass-led groove for well over eight minutes. A trilling organ pipes around the top end while the vocals, rhythmic and repetitive, blur in a wash of reverb. The effect is hypnotic.

While building on well-established forms, Drei Drei Drei revels in anarchic experimentalism, incorporating cut-up sound collages and pan-cultural infusions throughout, giving it a unique flavour. Balancing weirdness and surreal avant-gardism and a mischievous sense of humour with a keen sense of rhythm and groove, it’s intelligently assembled. But best of all, you can get down to it. CAN you dig it? Neu bet!

Bader Motor - Drei Drei Drei