Monday, January 20, 2014

What's New?: 1.20.2014

On today's episode: GERMANS!
Tangerine Dream — Alpha Centauri (1970)

Seriously wacky early stuff from the Edgar Froese-led version of the Dream.  This was actually the band's first album to be released, though not their first recording.  It's very early synths and drum machines (and some sort of seemingly stringed instrument?  Christ, is that a guitar?).  It's just three songs, one short and two long.  The first track ('Sunrise in the Third System') is easily the most accessible thing here, but things go very dark psychedelic, very quickly after that.  Very atonal.  In fact, somebody probably heard this at some point and thought it was just total nonsense music.  At times, I'm reminded of Sun Ra's more far-reaching stuff, just without horns obviously.  Good stuff, though not for everyone. This is the later 80's reissue on Relativity.

Tangerine Dream — Tangram (1980)

Fast forward to the early 80's and I believe this was the last time the band would just do two sidelong pieces on an album for some years. They were just starting to transition to their film soundtrack career and that's beginning to show on this album. Even though it's supposed to be one long song, there are very clear individual pieces within the larger piece and I can't help but think it could have been split into their own tracks. And it does get a bit cheesy sometimes with the now totally dated sounding (in a bad way) synths. Still, there's a bit of the old spirit left in them on this album and there's points of sheer interstellar weirdness that I love them for. So yeah, mixed bag, but leaning towards worth it.

Harmonia — Musik von Harmonia (1974)

Basically the start of what would become known as new wave.  Harmonia is the boys Roedelius and Moebius from Cluster and Michael Rother from NEU!  Drum machines and synthesizers bubbling up into a stew of innovation on the very first track ('Watussi') and things just float onwards from there.  And, that's something: this music is very doodle-y and fun.  For all its groundbreaking sounds, it's actually very tuneful and accessible.  Check out 'Dino' and then remind yourself that this was released four years before Jimmy Carter was president.   That's just fun, any way you slice it.

Harmonia — Deluxe (1975)

Michael Rother gets a little more guitar time on this one and it's even more accessible, so I prefer it.  There's some vocal numbers on this one, as well, all of which are fun.  Check out 'Monza' for some serious guitar music and a preview of where Rother was headed on his own albums.  Overall, very enjoyable stuff and probably the better of the band's two albums.  And, besides that, just striking when you consider how ahead of their time they were.

Michael Rother — Flammende Herzen (1976)

Harmonic invention at its finest.  And again, totally groundbreaking music.  I generally don't like the term "post-rock", but this album, and the two that followed it, predict instrumental guitar rock that stresses mood and harmony over technical virtuosity by at least two and a half decades.  The melodies are so intricate, so layered and so well-thought out, it's nearly orchestral in its scope.  Just check out the leadoff title track and get blown away at how unique this music is.  The rest of the album follows suit and, while that first track is probably the highlight, the whole thing maintains that introspective but uplifting vibe to near perfection. 

Michael Rother — Sterntaler (1977)

Basically part two of Flammende Herzen, but maybe a tad more inward-looking.  Again, the first track ('Sonnenrad') comes out shining brightest.  But this does feel a bit more consistent and, for some reason I can't place, I'm reminded of the Cure's Seventeen Seconds album on songs like 'Fontana di Luna' and 'Blauer Regen.'  Maybe a bit down overall, but every song inevitably hits an absolutely uplifting chord or moment that redeems and solves everything all at once.

Michael Rother — Katzenmuzik (1979)

A grand masterpiece.  This actually was meant to be a guitar symphony, of sorts.  It's just one theme repeated across twelve different iterations and interpretations.  Different tempos and keys are attempted, but it just hits this transcendent mood and stays there for about fourty wonderful minutes.  Here's a representative piece.  Hard to reconcile with such high concentration of quality, but it's one of those rare albums that you can enjoy and learn from in equal measures.  This is absolutely essential music and one of the better albums I've encountered in the past year.  Completely wonderful and timeless.


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