Friday, June 10, 2016
Melody Maker, 1987 or 88
by Simon Reynolds
entry in Spin Guide to Alternative Music
by Simon Reynolds
Faust (1971; Recommended 1979) 
So Far (1972; Recommended 1979) 
The Faust Tapes (1973; ReR 1990) 
Faust IV (1973; Virgin 1992) 
71 Minutes Of... (rec 1971-5; ReR 1990) 
The Faust Concerts Vol. I (rec 1990; Table Of The Elements1994) 
The Faust Concerts Vol. II (rec. 1992; Table Of The Elements 1994) 
TONY CONRAD WITH FAUST
Outside The Dream Syndicate (1972; Table of the Elements, 1993) 
Because Can are too funked-up, and Kraftwerk too synth-centric, Faust are arguably the quintessential Krautrock unit. Not only did they have the archetypal German anti-image (long, lank hair, greasy facial fuzz, grubby T-shirts and loon-pants), but their first four albums are the definitive version of that uniquely Teutonic take on Velvet Underground, Barrett-era Pink Floyd, the Stooges and West Coast acid-rock. 'Take'? I should have said 'take off', for these precursors are but a launching pad for Faust to hurtle into a Beyond all their own. The crucial Kraut ingredient in the rocket fuel is a Dada-filtered-through-drugs absurdism, which manifested itself in surreal whimsy (lyrics like "a wonderful wooden reason", titles like "Why Don't You Eat Carrots?") and a yen for cut-up and collage.
The band's discography is pretty much of a piece, which is not to say that it's homogenous--heterogeneity is Faust's anti-essence. Mood-wise too, they're all over the place, skipping from zany to sacramental to psychotic to jaunty in a flash, or zapping the listener with a cluster-bomb of wildly contradictory emotions. *Faust* consists of three long tracks, although the band's schizo-eclecticism makes it sound like many more. Distorted drone-guitar mantras jump-cut to studio-concocted caprices to cathedralized organ music to idyllic lulls of plangent pastoralism. On *So Far*, "No Harm"'s caustic wah-wah and staccato beats impart an invocatory urgency to the idiot-chant "daddy, take the banana, tomorrow's Sunday"; the title track is studio-warped, Martian doowop to rival Tim Buckley's "Starsailor". *The Faust Tapes*--one long collage track consisting of found sounds, ragged jams, Stockhausen-like plainsong--is something like the Bible for '90s lo-fi (Pavement, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282), and a major influence on 'ambient noir' (Zoviet France, Nurse With Wound, LaBradford). Generally, Faust's oeuvre has offered post-punk bands a treasure trove of pointers on how to expand musically without bloating up prog-rock stylee.
*Faust IV* is the band's most song-orientated and, by a slender margin, best record. Its highlights include "Jennifer" (one of psychedelia's eeriest and most poignant love songs), "Krautrock" (a wall-of-noise pastiche whose Niagaran head- rush defeats its own raison d'etre) and the fabulous mad- hornet fuzz-solo that climaxes the third-Velvets-LP-styled "It's A Bit Of A Pain". *71 Minutes Of...* consists of the *Munic & Elsewhere* LP and unreleased *Faust Party Three*, and is another fine mess-celany of stuff'n'nonsense. *Outside The Dream Syndicate* saw the band teaming up with Tony Conrad (who'd droned alongside John Cale and La Monte Young in the Sixties) for three 20 minute plus tracks of magnificent, metronomic monotony. The reactivated Faust's early '90s live albums docment a pointless 'greatest hits' revue: steer clear.
After Faust, you'll surely want to venture further into the Krautrock hinterland; be warned, your wallet will suffer, as this involves import reissues or highly prized/priced out- of-print originals. Start with Neu!, who are something like Germany's Television. Combining radiant guitars with the unsyncopated symettry of the *motorik* beat (also used by Kraftwerk) to create an aura of restrained elation, Neu! released three superb LP's; their late '70s reincarnation as La Dusseldorf had its moments too. Cluster were a two-man sound-lab who used looped, effects-processed guitars to create drone-scapes more mesmeric and tripped-out than Spacemen 3's wildest dreams; later, they went synth, collaborated with Eno, and dwindled (together and solo) into New Age. In between, Neu's Michael Rother hooked up with Cluster's Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Mobius as Harmonia, for two albums' worth of euphonious sounds. 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 their best albums *Phallus Dei*, *Dance Of the Lemmings* and *Yeti*. As for the rest...Ash Ra Tempel's lysergic raga-rock and Popol Vuh's pellucid, almost Gothic instrumentals can be taken straight, but Brainticket and Guru Guru walk a precarious line between sublime and ridiculous. (Reynolds)
Table of the Elements
Faust were born of the Dada-meets-Zen-meets-LSD turmoil of the late Sixties. Their music, created in communal conditions between bouts of nudism, primal-scream therapy and growing their own pot, echoed the spirit of yippie play-power and Situationist prankster politics. Drawing on inputs like the Velvet Underground,
New York avant-gardists
La Monte Young and Fluxus, and electro-acoustic composer Stockhausen, Faust
created four peerless albums of post-psychedelic/proto-punk mayhem, jumpcutting
between genres and montaging mangled noise and mystical melody. By 1974 they
had disintegrated, but their legacy permeates the post-punk era, from
industrial (This Heat, Nurse With Wound, Pere Ubu, Einsturzende) to lo-fi
drone-rock ( Main, Stereolab, Pavement, Dead
20 years from their last official release (the song-oriented Faust IV, their masterpiece according to me, Julian Cope and nobody else), Rien is the return of Faust in all their riotous, rule-defying glory. Constructed partly from live excerpts from their 1994 reunion tour of the
USA, which were
handed to experimentalist Jim O'Rourke to mess with in the studio, Rien is
graced by no songs as eerily lovely as IV's Jennifer. Instead, your ears are
greeted with a drone-fest of amp-hum and feedback-miasma, found-sounds and
mad-scat vocal gibberish; a wall-of-noise as blank and metallurgical as the
matt-grey CD booklet, whose 8 pages are devoid of any information (the credits
are instead spoken at the end of the record!). The result is a blank canvas for
the imagination; certain passages make me think of Siberia,
of sub-zero winds rustling through telegraph wires, but each listener will
direct their own mind's eye cinematography. The closest Faust get to rock dynamics
is Track 5 (no titles!), where tense, prehensile rhythms instil a mantra-like
intensity, and a woozy trumpet is
processed so heavily it seems to buckle like wire in a furnance.
Rien is superior to rival Krautrockers Can's own patchy 1989 comeback Rite Time. But inevitably--given that Faust went so far, so every-which-way, the first time around--Rien never really startles. Because the unpredictable is their stock-in-trade, the unexpected precisely what we expect from them, the only way Faust could have really surprised us is by recording, say, a Michael Bolton-style collection of Motown covers. Fanatics will lap Rien up; novices should aquire Faust, So Far, The Faust Tapes and Faust IV first.
H H H H H
Faust’s fourth album is controversial. It’s adored by some fans, abhorred by more. Perhaps “abhor” is a bit strong but… it’s definitely regarded as watered-down compared to its immediate predecessor, The Faust Tapes (the one Virgin sold for just 49p and which the bulk of its 100,000 purchasers found way too wacked-out). That Dada side of Faust is less in evidence on Faust IV, but in compensation, the melodic beauty and sheer rocking glory glimpsed on the first three albums blossoms.
File me under “adore”. IV, in fact, is my favourite Faust and listening to this reissue (remastered and accompanied by a bonus CD of alternate takes plus a 1973 Peel Session), I’m freshly flabbergasted that anyone was ever underwhelmed. Opener “Krautrock” was intended as a parody of German kosmisch rock, but satirical intent is blown to the winds by its 12-minute thunder-gush of distortion and feedback. After the wonderfully goofy skank of “The Sad Skinhead” (about a lovelorn bovver boy remembering “going places, smashing faces” with his ex) comes “Jennifer”, a tripped-out love song almost unequalled in the annals of psychedelia. A strange rubbery reverbed-bassline and a gently circling guitar figure conjure a mood of spacey and sacred serenity, which even the whimsical lyric about burning hair and “yellow jokes” coming out of the beloved’s head can’t deflate. The alternate take on disc two is even dreamier, as though Reality itself is wavering like heat-haze ripples over a sun-baked highway.
The first half of the original Side Two is where I half-see the naysayers’ point: the high-energy grind of “Just A Second”/“Picnic on A Frozen River”/”Giggy Smile” is fab but not that far from Groundhogs or Guru Guru, ie. blues-rock + prog angularity + proto-punk aggression. (The extended take of “Just A Second” on Disc 2, though, is a much more freeform excursion into Hawkwind-like space boogie). After “Giggy” Faust IV gets sublime again with “Lauft … Heisst Das Es Lauft Oder Es Komt Bald… Lauft,” a lovely acoustic instrumental laced with scritchy folk fiddle that then then mutates into a Popol Vuh-ish piece for organ that's almost oppressively majestic. Closer “It’s A Bit of A Pain” could be off the third Velvets album. It’s a plaintive ballad, equal parts beatific and blue, that breaks out into a blistered fuzztone solo divebombing around your head like a swarm of blissed-out bees.
Doubters be damned; this is one of the greatest albums EVER.
INTERVIEW WITH HANS JOACHIM IRMLER OF FAUST
Up until Faust IV, all the records were made at Wumme, the converted schoolhouse in the countryside where Faust lived and worked as a commune. But recording IV at Virgin’s Manor Studio didn’t work out so well, right?
It was a more commercial place than we expected. We brought our own sound engineer and there were engineers there already, so there was some hassling. Still, something good came out of it. The girlfriend of Mike Oldfield worked at the Manor and she asked “can my boyfriend use some of your down time?.” We worked at night, Oldfield worked in the day time, and that was Tubular Bells!
I was surprised to learn that “It’s a Bit of A Pain,” an all-time Faust classic that makes a beautiful closure for Faust IV, was actually an earlier track tacked on because the album was never properly finished.
“Pain” was the B-side of the single “So Far”. We wanted to do a concept song about female emancipation. Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch had just come out, and we were attracted by the idea of women’s liberation, but felt it had gone a bit far. At that time there was also the idea in
that Swedish people were really free, especially women, and there were a lot of
Swedish porn stars famous in Germany .
So on “It’s a Bit of A Pain” we had a Swedish female friend reading from the
German translation of Female Eunuch.
It was all done with a loving eye. Germany