Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Let's Eat Grandma

LET'S EAT GRANDMA
I, Gemini
(Transgressive)
director's cut, The Wire, June 2016)

by Simon Reynolds


Nationality feels like an impermissible topic to bring up when writing about the appeal of music.  Like something that’s vaguely discredited, or at least outmoded:  left behind for good (in both senses) in our post-geographical, distance-shrinking world.  Celebrating hybridity, intermixture and impurity is always going to seem more progressive than fetishising the essential, the unchanging, the parochial.  Yet national character continues to have a potent attraction.  Englishness of a particular musty sort seeps from every pore of eMMplekz’s dankly addictive Rook to TN34. And Englishness of a brightly enchanted kind forms a fragrant haze around I, Gemini , the debut album from Let’s Eat Grandma.

This teenage duo could hardly be more English, from their names – Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton—to their singing voices, which have the crumbly texture of Wensleydale, reminding me at various points of Sophie from The Detectorists, Cassie in Skins, and Lola from the kids’s animation series Charlie and Lola. The only time they break the spell of quintessential Englishness is their name – they should really be called Let’s Eat Granny.

Musically, too, they summon to mind a bunch of frightfully English things:  Danielle Dax, Matching Mole, Pram, Kate Bush.  Not that they ever really sound much like any of these. But the ballpark –  or should I say, cricket pitch – is the same: quirky, homespun, a little precious, child-like in a way that teeters close to twee but never crosses the line.  

Let’s Eat Grandma play up their Englishness and their tender years with the way they present in photo sessions and in the video for the single “Deep Six Textbook”. With their lace frocks, long golden tresses, and milky complexions, they come across a bit like modern-day equivalents of the miscreants behind the Cottingley Fairies photographs – girl-cousins who let their imaginations get away with them and fooled half the world. On “Deep Six Textbook,” Jenny and Rosa sing as classroom daydreamers who’d rather be communing with the starfish and the ocean than stuck indoors being trained for productive adulthood: “we live our lives in the textbook... I feel like standing on the desk and screaming ‘I DON’T CARE!’”.   Listening to their motley sound-palette, you often picture a school music room full of battered instruments: recorder, ukulele, electric organ, xylophone, triangle, rough-toned violin, the stray components of a drum kit, a long outmoded synth.  Song titles like “Chimpanzees in Canopies” and “Welcome To The Treehouse” evoke Nature Studies projects, school trips to the zoo, and back garden fun ’n’ games.

But the innocence doesn’t feel forced. At sixteen and seventeen, Hollingworth and Walton are barely out of childhood.  More like sisters than the friends-since-age-four they are, their voices appear to have grown alike through prolonged proximity, like plants entwining together in a neglected garden. Gemini is the Latin for twins and the album title I, Gemini seems to speak of a near-telepathic bond: a single mind shared across two bodies.

One of the emerging clichés of today’s brainy music-making (and music-reviewing) is “world-building”. Everybody’s at it: constructing sprawling concept albums that are the audio setting for Game of   Thrones- scale sagas or epic near-future dystopias. I, Gemini sounds like a world, yes, but not one consciously assembled, just the byproduct of a private space of pure imagination that flourished between constant companions. Think Heavenly Creatures, without the upsetting ending. 
Sometimes the organic quality of I, Gemini feels a little off the cuff.  “Eat Shiitake Mushrooms” coalesces haphazardly at first, like a primary school music class converging around a tune, while “Sax in the City” sounds like a one-man band with its ukulele, toy cymbal, and honking horn. But the thrown-togetherness is deceptive:  there’s a consummate attentiveness to texture, structure, and, most vividly, space in evidence.  “Deep Six Textbook” sounds like a song heard with a seashell cupped to your ear. Its muzzy washes of Caravan-keyboard and stoic tick-tock beat set deep in the distance have me casting back to late Eighties recordings by A.R. Kane and Cocteau Twins for an equivalent sense of intimate emptiness. 

Norwich, the girls’ hometown, is a bustling city in a county that’s largely rural, full of flat expanses, and often considered a bit of a backwater.  Like an audio illustration for Raymond Williams’s English culture study The Country and The City, the album shuttles back and forth on a branch line that stretches from Virginia Astley to Lady Sovereign.  Just when you think they’re all about winsome pastoralism, Let’s Eat Grandma will starting rapping – sounding, on “Eat Shiitake Mushrooms”, like Cranes’s baby-voiced Alison Shaw reborn as a grime MC from E3.  Whether sung or spat, Hollingworth & Walton’s slack enunciation belies their out-of-time, Picnic At Hanging Rock image:  this is actually a rather modern style of singing*, something you hear across the spectrum from Calvin Harris, Ellie Goulding and Selena Gomez to AlunaGeorge and James Blake.  But Let’s Eat Grandma push it further, smudging  fricatives and bilabials, making syllables fold and kink sideways,  half-swallowing their vowels or swilling them around the palate. It’s like they’re delectating in their own voice-stuff, and who could blame them?  

This meld of savory-sweet singing, moreish melody, glistening texture, strange space and surprises galore makes I, Gemini the best pop-not-pop album since Micachu & the Shapes’s Jewellery. (Without ever resembling it at all).  And as with that album, Gemini is backloaded: each new song better than the one that precedes. Things really take off as we pass the half-way mark. “Rapunzel” is their “Wuthering Heights”:  romanticism so gauchely gushing only 17 year olds can get away with it. The song starts with an upper-octave piano cycle that spins an atmosphere of twinkly magic, like the moment in Le Grand Meaulnes when the protagonist stumbles on the lost chateau in the forest. Then it gathers to a pounding pitch of tempestuous grandeur, with a storyline about a 7-year-old runaway from domestic discord suddenly stricken with the realization “I’m not having fun in this fairy tale”.  

“Sleep Song” likewise starts gently with wheezy harmonium and plangent crinkles of guitar, then the lullaby bends to the sinister with a babble of increasingly clashing voices, before spiraling into a sort of soaring plummet of night-terror.  A song in two parts, “Welcome To The Treehouse” is their “Cloudbusting”: the angelic screech of the vocals is the sound of hearts exploding, but who can tell whether they’re bursting with joy or dread.


The star sign Gemini  (mine, as it happens) has among its strengths imagination, quickness, and adaptability; among  its weaknesses, impulsiveness, flightiness, and  indecision. That all just sounds like the checklist for adolescence.   I Gemini ‘s allure for me as an aging expatriate is not just the reassuring idea that Englishness abides, but that adolescence is much the same as it ever was.  The trappings have changed – Instagram and Snapchat, rather than scrapbooks and pen pals – but the fundamental things apply:  boredom, longing, restlessness, wonder, lust, spite, curiosity, confusion.  “Oh yeah life goes on / Long after the thrill of livin’ has gone”, warned that least-English of all singers Johnny Cougar, before advising: “Hold onto sixteen as long as you can/Changes come around real soon make us women and men”.  If you can’t find still and grasp tight within yourself those sensations of unformed possibility, then second-best is to grab them vicariously, through music that’s as thrillingly alive and ardently awake as this.  

^^^^^^^^^^

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Krautrock

KRAUTROCK REISSUES column

Melody Maker, 1995?

by Simon Reynolds

Marginal in its own time, Krautrock can now be seen to have
invented the future we currently inhabit.  Can's pan-global
avant-funk anticipated many of the moves made by sampladelic
dance genres like trip hop, ethnotechno and ambient jungle;
Kraftwerk and Neu!'s motorik rhythms paved the way for trance
techno and trance rock; Faust and Cluster's drone-ological
experiments contained the germs of lo-fi, post-rock and
isolationism. The boom in Krautrock reissues offers a great
opportunity to go back and hear this future's birth-pangs.

Easily the most exciting of the current spate of
reissues are the three albums Kraftwerk recorded between
1970-73, prior to their global pop smash "Autobahn".
"Kraftwerk 1", "Kraftwerk 2" and "Ralf and Florian" (all
Germanofon)  are fascinating because you can hear both where
the band are headed (techno) and the experimental tradition
from which they gradually extricated themselves (late '60s
New York avant-gardism).  Despite the fact that its robotic
riff is played on a flute rather than a synth, "Ruckzuck"
prophesises the hypnotic rush of "Trance Europe Express" and
"Tour De France"; the Elysian electro-pastoralism of
"Klingklang" looks ahead to the heavenly shimmerscapes of
"Neon Lights", or even Spacemen 3's "Playing With Fire".
Elsewhere, Kraftwerk's avant-classical and psychedelic roots
are showing: there's John Cage-like gamelan chimes, clusters
of woozy guitar-harmonics and droopy, almost Hawaian-souding
bottleneck-glissandos, echo-chamber freak-outs, Beach
Boys/barbershop harmonies and even Byrdsy backwards-guitar.

Krautrock's ancestral links (via the Velvet Underground)
to New York's school of drone-minimalism were spelled out
when Faust hooked up with Tony Conrad, who'd played
(alongside John Cale) in La Monte Young's legendary if little
heard "dream music" ensemble. The result was the 1972 LP
"Outside The Dream Syndicate", now reissued by Table of The
Elements: three twenty-minute-plus tracks of magnificent
mantric monotony, with Conrad's severe violin rasping across
Faust's strict and symettrical rhythm section.  Don't expect
Faust's kooky wit or surreal caprices: "Outside The Dream
Syndicate" is an essay in the Zen-power of repetition and
restriction.  If it's Faust's daft side you're after, check
out "The Faust Concerts Vol. 1" and "Vol.  2" (both Table of
the Elements), which document the band's '90s reformation,
alternating between a pointless 'Greatest Hits' revue and
'old-Dadaist-farts-at-play' cacophony. Still, Faust have a
brand new studio LP out later this year, produced by Steve
Albini and Jim O'Rourke, which should be at very least
intriguing.

Anyone interested in tripped-out weirdshit should hunt
down the awesome "Cluster II" (Tempel). Cluster--the two-man
sound-laboratory of Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius--
deployed treated, processed and looped guitars to weave
drone-tapestries that seem to waver, buckle and crinkle
before your ears, like the sonic equivalent of Op Art.
Later, Cluster went synth, collaborated with Brian Eno, and
dwindled into sporadically interesting but increasingly New
Agey solo careers. That said, their brand-new, percussion-
oriented LP "One Hour" (Gyroscope) is actually well worth a
listen.  

Back in the mid-70's, Roedelius and Moebius hooked
up with Michael Rother of Neu!  to form Harmonia, whose
second LP "Deluxe" (Bebe) has just been reissued. Harmonia's
aura of serene exultation is actually closer to Neu!'s
gliding propulsion than Cluster's locked-groove
claustrophobia. With its twinkling Rother guitars and naively
pretty, early Orchestral Manoeuvres melodiosness, "Deluxe" is
like some weird fusion of kosmic rock and Test Card muzak.

Of the latest bunch of Can-related reissues, the most
interesting solo item is "Canaxis" (Spoon/Mute), a 1968/69
collaboration between Holger Czukay and Rolf Dammers that
consists of two side-long "acoustic sound-paintings".  The
title track and "Boat-Woman Song" (which is based around
tape-loops of haunting Vietnamese folk music) are pioneering
examples of ethnological sampling. Much later came Jon
Hassell with his "Fourth World" music, Brian Eno and David
Byrne's "My Life In The Bush of Ghosts", and contemporary
ethnodelic magpies such as Loop Guru, Trans-Global and Jah
Wobble.  Once again, those krafty Krauts got there ahead of
the rest. 



KRAUTROCK a survey
Melody Maker, 1995 (also appeared in the book Modulations)

by Simon Reynolds

Immerse yourself in Krautrock--and this is the immersive,
engulfing music par excellence--and you'll find a paradox at the
music's heart: a combination of absolute freedom and absolute
discipline. Krautrock is where the over-reaching ambition and
untethered freakitude of late '60s acid rock is checked and galvanised
by a proto-punk minimalism. Krautrock bands like Can, Neu! and Faust
unleashed music of immense scale that miraculously avoided prog-rock's
bombastics, its cult of virtuosity-for-virtuosity's-sake. Where
progressive rock boasted "look at me, look how fast my fingers can go",
Krautrock beseeched "look! look how VAST we can go'. Or as Can's
Michael Karoli put it: "We weren't into impressing people, just
caressing them."


Alongside Tim Buckley's Starsailor, Miles Davis circa On The Corner,
Yoko Ono circa Fly, Krautrock was true fusion, merging psychedelic rock with funk groove, jazz improvisation, Stockhausen-style avant-electronics and ethnic flava in a way that
avoided the self-congratulatory, dilettante eclecticism that marred
even the best of the 70s jazz-rock bands. Krautrock's primary inputs,
and urgency, came from late 60s rock: Velvet Underground's mesmerising
mantras, Hendrix's pyrotechnique, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd's
chromatic chaos, plus dashes of West Coast folkadelic rock and the
studio-centric experiments of Brian Wilson and the later
Beatles. Equally significant is what they didn't draw on, namely the
blues-bore purism sired by Cream and the Stones.
  
Tweaking this Anglo-American legacy, the German bands added a vital
distance (coming to rock'n'roll as an alien import, they were able to
make it even more alien), and they infused it with a German character
that's instantly audible but hard to tag. A combination of Dada, LSD
and Zen resulted in a dry absurdist humour that could range from zany
tomfoolery to a sort of sublime nonchalance, a lightheaded but never
lighthearted ease of spirit. Although they occasionally dipped their
toes into psychedelia's darkside (the madness that claimed psychonauts 
such as Syd Barrett, Roky Erikson or Moby Grape's Skip Spence), what's
striking about most Krautrock is how affirmative it is, even at its
most demented. This peculiar serene joy and aura of pantheistic
celebration is nowhere more evident than in the peak work of Can, Faust
and Neu!


If the triumvirate of Can/Faust/Neu! has gotten so clichéd as a hip
reference point, it's for a good reason. Despite being quite dissimilar
and lacking any kind of fraternal, comradely feelings towards each
other, Can, Faust and Neu! are the unassailable centre of Krautrock's
pantheon-- its Dante/Shakespeare/Milton, or Beatles/Stones/Dylan, if
you will.


Can's core was a quartet of lapsed avant-garde and free jazz musicians
(bassist Holger Czukay, guitarist Michael Karoli, keyboardist Irmin
Schmidt and drummer Jaki Leibezeit) who--blown away by the Velvet
Underground and the Beatles' "I Am The Walrus"-- decided rock was where
it was at. Can were the most funky and improvisational of the Krautrock
bands. Recording in their own studio in a Cologne castle, they jammed all day, then edited
the juiciest chunks of improv into coherent compositions. This was
similar to the methodology used by Miles Davis and producer Teo Macero
on classic jazz-rock albums  such as Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson and On
the Corner. As Can's resident Macero, Czukay deployed two-track recording and a handful of mikes to achieve wonders of proto-ambient spatiality, shaming today's lo-fi bands.

 Can's early sound--spartan, crisp-and-dry trance-rock, like the Velvet
Underground circa White Light White Heat but with a smokin' rhythm
section and black American vocalist Malcolm Mooney--peaked with the 15
minute mindquake of "Mother Sky". As the influence of James Brownian
motion kicked in, Can began to fuse 'head' and 'booty', atmosphere and
groove, like nobody else save Miles Davis. After the shamanic avant-funk of Tago Mago and
the brittle angst-funk of Ege Bamyasi--both featuring their
psycho-surreal second singer Damo Suzuki--Can's music plunged into the
sunshine with Future Days, Soon Over Babaluma and Landed, their
mid-'70s "Gaia trilogy". A kind of mystic materialism quivers and
pulses inside these ethnofunkadelic groovescapes and ambient oases,
from the moon-serenade "Come Sta, La Luna" to the fractal funk and
chaos theorems of "Chain  Reaction/Quantum Physics". This is music that
wordlessly but eloquently rejoices in Mother Nature's bounty and
beauty.


The pan-global panoramic trance-dance of Talking Heads'  
Remain In Light owed a lot to Soon Over Babaluma, and yet 
more sincere flattery came in the form of David Byrne and 
Remain producer Brian Eno's My Life In The Bush of Ghosts (1981). Its
use of ethnic vocal samples was unfavourably compared with Czukay's
contemporaneous Movies, whose "Persian Love" recontextualised an
Iranian ballad; in actual fact, Holger had got there 12 years earlier
with  Canaxis, which used Vietnamese boat-woman's song!

 Despite an almost utter absence of input from black music, Neu! were
probably the closest to Can, in their sheer hypno-groove power and
shared belief that "restriction is the mother of invention" (Holger
Czukay's minimal-is-maximal credo). Devoid of funk or swing, Neu! is
all about compulsive propulsion. Klaus Dinger was an astoundingly
inventive, endlessly listenable drummer who worked magic within the
confines of a rudimentary four-to-the-floor rock beat. Together with
guitarist Michael Rother, he invented motorik, a metronomic, pulsating
rhythm that instils a sublime sensation of restrained exhiliration, like
gliding cruise-control down the freeway into a future dazzling with
promise. That "dazzle" comes from Rother's awesomely original
guitarwork, all chiming radiance and long streaks and smears of
tone-colour.  Like the New York band Television  a few years later,
Neu! bridged Byrdsy psychedelia and punk. They also  wove  ambient
texturescapes (e.g. the oceanside idyll "Leb' Wohl") and  experimented  with weird noise (after  blowing their recording budget, they filled the second side of Neu! 2 with sped-up
and slowed-down versions of an earlier single!). But it's motorik
excursions like "Hallogallo", ""Fur Immer" and "Isi" that constitute
Neu's great legacy, one that's only now being fully exploited by
admirers like Stereolab and Trans-Am.


Faust similarly combined a proto-punk mess-thetic with acid-rock's galactic grandeur. But instead of Neu!'s streamlined symmetry, Faust oscillated wildly between filthy, fucked-up noise and
gorgeous pastoral melody, between yowling antics and exquisitely
sculpted sonic objets d'art. Above all, Faust were maestros of
incongruity; their albums are riddled with jarring juxtapositions and
startling jumpcuts between styles. Heterogeneity was their
anti-essence. This cut-up Dada side of Faust was explored to the hilt on The Faust Tapes, a collage 
album of some 26 segments, and it's a methodology they revisited on
their late Nineties comeback album Rien, which was assembled by
producer Jim O'Rourke using live tapes of the band's reunion tour of
America.  Paralleling the in-vogue cut-up techniques of William
Burroughs, Faust's collage aesthetic impacted the early 80s' burgeoning
"industrial" scene (Cabaret Voltaire, Zoviet France, This Heat, Nurse
With Wound, etc). But for all their avant-garde extremities, Faust were
also great songwriters, scatttering amid the zany chaos such gems as
the bittersweet psychedelic love-song "Jennifer" and the wistful acid
blues of "It's a Bit of a Pain".


Once you've immersed yourself in the best, what about the rest? Ash Ra
Tempel took The Stooges' downered wah-wah rock ("We Will Fall", "Ann',
"Dirt") way way out into the mystic. Guitarist Manuel Gottsching's
subsequent solo records have their moments  but veer too often into
beatific New Age wispiness. An exception is  Gottsching's astonishing
E2-E4,  an album-length electronic track that paved the way for the
ambient techno watercolors of Carl Craig, The Black Dog, and The Orb,
and even became a Balearic rave anthem when remade by Sueno Latino.

Another, less acknowledged precursor to Nineties techno--especially
the metronomic and Teutonic sound of trance--was Tangerine Dream, who
evolved from the transcendental guitar  tumult of their first four
albums to a synth-dominated, hypnotic style  not far from the silvered
rush of  English neo-hippie outfit Hawkwind.


Amon Duul II were the most baroque and bombastic of the krucial Kraut kontenders: imagine Led Zeppelin produced by John Cale with Nico on vocals and a crate of magic mushrooms to hand. They
had a fab line in lysergic song titles too: "Halluzination Guillotine",
"Dehypnotised Toothpaste", "A Short Stop At The Transylvanian Brain
Surgery". Their estranged and  more politicized sister-band Amon Duul I
pursued a similarly drug-burned rock, but were more primitivistic and
sloppy.  Also on the acid-soaked, kosmische tip, Popol Vuh  recorded  a
sprawling, diverse  oevre ranging from meditational, Mediaevalist
reveries to primordial, percussive freak-outs. 


After Can/Faust/Neu!, Cluster were probably the most innovative and ahead-of-their time of the early Seventies German bands. After a spell as the purely avant-garde Kluster, the two-man soundlab
of Hans-Joachim  
Roedelius and Dieter Moebius hit their stride with the mesmeric
dronescapes of Cluster II and Cluster '71. Later, they traded in their
armoury of FX-pedals and guitar-loops for synths, knocked out a bunch
of bewitching albums in collaboration  with Brian Eno, and chalked up a
mammoth discography (as Cluster, but also solo and as Roedelius and
Moebius) with the odd gem lurking amid much  New Age mush. Hooking up
with Neu!'s Michael Rother, the duo also recorded as Harmonia,
producing two albums worth of serene and soul-cleansing
proto-electronica. Cluster's Zuckerzeit, the Harmonia records, and the
Neu! sound were a big influence on Eno and his pal David Bowie during
the latter's mid-Seventies sojourn in Berlin; you can hear it in the
lustrous guitar canopies of "Heroes" and  the glum, pensive
synth-strumentals on side two of Low. 


Krautrock brought into focus an idea latent in rock, from Bo Diddley to the Stooges to the Modern Lovers: that the rhythmic essence of rock music, what made it different from jazz, was a kind of
machinic compulsion. Pitched somewhere between Kraftwerk's man-machine
rigour and James Brown's sex-machine sweat, bands like Can and Neu!
created grooves that fused the luscious warmth of flesh-and-blood funk
with the cold precision of techno. There was a spiritual aspect to all
this, sort of Zen and the Art of Motorik Maintenance: the idea that
true joy in life isn't liberation from work but exertion, fixation, a
trance-like state of immersion in the process itself, regardless of
outcome. Holger Czukay declared: "Repetition is like a machine... If you can get aware of the life of a machine then you are definitely a master ... [machines] have a heart and
soul... they are living beings'." . Taking this idea of the 'soft
machine' or 'desiring machine' even further, Neu! created a new kind of
rhythm for rock, bridging the gap between rock'n'roll's syncopation and
disco's four-to-the-floor metronomics. As Stereolab's Tim Gane says,
"Neu!'s longer tracks are far closer to the nature of house and techno
than guitar rock".


But Kraftwerk  was the group that really bridged the gap between rock
and electronic dance music.  (In fact, Rother and Dinger were briefly
members of Kraftwerk, before going off to do their own thing as Neu!).
On their  first three albums,  Kraftwerk's creative core Ralf Hutter
and Florian Schneider jumbled the New York minimalist school (La Monte
Young, John Cage, Steve Reich etc) with German avant-electronics (Stockhausen). Then they staked everything on the idea that the synthesiser was the future, and won.  The  band's pop
breakthrough was "Autobahn", the 24 minute title track  of their fourth
album:  a synth-and-drum-machine  symphony that evoked  the  Zen
serenity  of gliding down the freeway. The track combined Beach
Boys-style harmonies with musique concrete sound effects --a
celebration of the car as "a musical instrument,"  proclaimed Hutter.
In  edited form,  the song became a global hit in 1974. But Kraftwerk's
aesthetic pinnacle  was  1977's "Trans-Europe Express, an awesomely
minimal slice of "Industrielle Volkmuzik" that did  for the locomotive
what "Autohahn " did for the motor car. With its Doppler Effect synths
and indefatigible beats, the  album's "Trans-Europe Express/Metal on
Metal" segue captured the spiritual passion behind technological
progress--"all the dynamism of industrial life, of modern life," as
Hutter put it.  Two further albums--1978's The Man Machine and 1981's
Computer World--consolidated Kraftwerk's achievement, and sealed the
staggering enormity and sheer pervasive range of their legacy: in the
Eighties and Nineties, they were reknowned and revered as the
godfathers of  (just count 'em!) Eurodisco, New Romantic synth-pop,
electro, Miami Bass, Detroit techno, and  North of England
bleep-and-bass (LFO, Sweet Exorcist, Forgemasters).


Why is the Krautrock legacy such a touchstone for contemporary
musicians. Firstly, Krautrock is one of the great eras of
guitar-reinvention. Expanding on the innovations of Hendrix, Syd
Barrett, the VU, etc, the Krautrock bands explored the electric
guitar's potential as source of sound-in-itself. Fed through
effects-pedals and the mixing desk, the guitar ceased to be a
riff-machine and verged on an analog synthesiser, i.e. a generator of
timbre and tone-colour. As such, the Krauts anticipated the
soundpainting and texturology that characterises today's computer-based
music,  while still retaining the rhythmic thrust of rock'n'roll. 

 Simultaneously kinetic and cinematic, Krautrock is one of the golden
phases in a continuum that runs through rock history: the textured
groovescape. It's a  thread that runs from Hendrix, Sly Stone, Miles
Davis, dub reggae, and Parliament-Funkadelic, through the early
Eighties avant-funk of PiL, The Pop Group, A Certain Ratio, et al,
right up to the more ambient  and atmospheric forms of electronic dance
music (Orbital, Seefeel, Basic Channel/Chain Reaction, Mouse On Mars).
Whether they're live bands jamming in the studio then editing and
resequencing their improvs, or  solitary computer boffins constructing
digital mosaics  using a mouse, a VDU, and a library of samples and
synth-tones, all these artists create pulsating, vividly textured
soundscapes through which the listener is gently transported.

Krautrock belongs on a  continuum of psychedelic dance music based
around the intensification of  rock's three most radical aspects:
groove, space, and timbre/texture/chromatics.  "Groove"  relates  to
repetition, to the loop, to timelessness--the  dream of escaping
History by getting back into the body.  Conjured on the mixing board
through  echo, reverb and delay,  "space"  induces  a stoned way of
listening,  hallucinatory  eyelid movies.  Created through  effects
pedals,  analog synths, or  sampladelic treatments,   "timbre"  is
trippy, paralleling the synaesthetic effects of drugs like LSD, where
sound is tactile or immersive.


Beyond all its claims to radicalism, though, Krautrock is simply
fabulous music, a dizzy kaleidoscope of crazily mixed up and
incompatible emotions and sensations (wonder, poignancy, nonchalance,
tenderness, derangement), an awesome affirmation of possibility that
inevitably appeals in an age when guitar-based music appears to be
contracting on a weekly basis. Listeners are turning to Krautrock, not
as a nostalgia-inducing memento of some wilder, more daring golden age
they never lived through, but as a treasure trove of hints and clues as
to what can be done right here, right now. Krautrock isn't history, but
a living testament that there's still so far to go.


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Can, do

CAN
Anthology
Rite Time
(Spoon/Mute)
The Wire

by Simon Reynolds

     With Can (see also: Davis, Miles), there's a paradoxical
sense that there's nothing left to say, and yet everything
left to say. It seems like we've only scratched the surface
of this music, and yet it's so hard to get critical purchase
on Can's slippery magic.

The idea of a CAN-thology seems faintly sacriligous, so
before anything else, let me iterate the bleedin' obvious:
you NEED the original albums, yes, ALL of them.  That proviso
aside, and despite the inevitable dissension over highpoints
absent and lowlights mystifyingly included, this double CD is
a useful crash-course for the uninitiated and impoverished.
Early Can--examples here include 'Father Cannot Yell' and the
awesome 'Mother Sky'--is cosmic garage punk, an acid-singed
mantra-minimalism heavily indebted to the Velvet Underground.
At this point, Can also went in for noise-swarms like "Soup"
and voodoo catacombs like "Augmn" that recall the Floyd at
their most AMM-aleatory or even the Godz' atavistic sound-
daubs.

By 'Tago Mago' and 'Ege Bamyasi', the Liebezeit/Czukay
rhythm section has completed intensive studies in James
Brownian motion, and the Can vibe shifts from motorik throb
to fitful phatback shuffle.  Hence the simmering pressure-
cooker tension of "Mushroom", the succulent pulse-matrix of
"One More Night". Magnificent, but these albums merely
prepare the hallowed ground for the prehensile, octopoid,
Shiva-limbed ethno-funkadelia of 'Future Days' (1973), 'Soon
Over Babaluma' (1974) and 'Landed' (1975): the Gaia trilogy.
On tracks like 'Dizzy Dizzy', 'Moonshake' and 'Future Days',
Can are making music so tender, tactful, tactile and
telepathic it seems to become your bloodstream.

At this exalted point, Can were making the ultimate
body'n'soul music, the incarnation of their Zen-tinged creed
of mystic-materialism: flow motion, pantheistic awe, melt-
your-psychic-defences and take-the-world-in-a-love-embrace,
every day is Mother Earth's Day etc.  After "Landed", Can's
cosmic libido starts to wane and droop with the later Virgin
albums; what was implicit becomes literalised in the New Age
affirmation of "Don't Say No". Can disintegrated; a decade-
long diaspora ensued, of interesting but not exactly
satisfying solo projects (which are next in line in Mute's
reissue/anthology program).

Finally, 1989's "Rite Time": no, there aren't too many
examples of reformations that resurrect the original magic,
but--unlike Television, Buzzcocks et al--Can's comeback is
excellent, if hardly earthshattering.  Reunited with original
vocalist Malcolm Mooney (whose parched drivel sounds like a
blend of Alex from A.R. Kane, Shaun Ryder and a punch-drunk
Ray Charles), Can are still peddling their Zen-funk credo:
the 'Rite Time' is Here and Now, if only we could all see
'Like A New Child', et al.  The latter is the best track, and
possibly their finest since 'Babaluma''s "Chain
Reaction/Quantum Physics": a vast, sprawling, panoramic
groovescape, pivoting around Irmin Schmidt's Zawinul-esque
synth-helixes and Liebezeit's roaming drums, and punctuated
by elephantine blasts of guitarfuzz. Other gems: the moon-
skank of "The Withoutlaw Man", the shuffle-funk of "Movin'
Right Along", where Mooney's dubbed up vocal darts amidst
Karoli's wah-wah scumbles and plangent Afro-bluesy licks.
'Rite Time' was recorded in Nice, which may explain its sun-
baked, easy-rolling nonchalance. Can are just about the only
band I know that can make jauntiness and lighthearted whimsy
not just tolerable, but aesthetically compelling and even
existensially admirable.  But then the miraculous is this
band's metier.


CAN

LANDED/FLOW MOTION/UNLIMITED EDITION/SAW DELIGHT/CAN

Spoon/Mute

Melody Maker

by Simon Reynolds


It's generally deemed that Can's post-United Artists 
work was less distinguished than pinnacles like "Tago Mago",  
"Soon Over Babaluma" and "Future Days". Certainly, something 
of their telepathic internal combustion was depleted after their switch from two-track to 16-tracks recording.  But those later albums, now CD-reissued by Mute, are far from barren of enchantment.

     Indeed, 'Landed' (1975) is a bona fide masterpiece and 
no mistake. From the bluesy, galactic garage rock of "Full 
Moon On The Highway" (with its weird chorus, like the vocal 
has been dilated and distended by an expert glassblower) 
through the musky Middle Eastern tapestry "Half Past One", to 
the cosmic skank of "Hunters And Collectors", the quartet are 
in feverishly fecund form. On "Vernal Equinox" and the 19 
minute epic "Unfinished" Can return to the unmapped territory of "Quantum Physics" and "Peking O", an omniverse where the normal laws of sound no longer apply.  "Unfinished" is a flux 
of unravelling forms that coalesce into fleeting focus before 
deliquescing again; a sort of animated mosaic, or abstract 
expressionist cartoon.

     "Flow Motion" (1976) is more mainstream, the work of a 
Can who were less self-sufficient, operating with one ear cocked to the new sounds of the day (reggae, disco, even boogie). "I Want More" was their one pop hit - if not a case of Can selling their soul, at least of them mortgaging it. But it's such a joyous disco novelty, it's hard to begrudge them. The main vein of the album is rhapsodic, oceanic funk not far from what was doing John Martyn at the time ("Solid 
Air", "One World") ;  "...And More" and "Smoke" are tribal 
funk mantras that anticipate 23 Skidoo and Byrne & Eno.

Later that year, Can also released "Unlimited Edition", 
treasury of tracks from Can's gilded era (1968-75) that never 
made it onto the albums. It's all superlative stuff, with 
special honours going to "Cutaway": 19 minutes of Can at 
their most combustively spontaneous, going through myriad 
phases, before eventually devolving into a primordial soup of 
DNA strands, helixes and lattices.

     "Saw Delight" (1977) was where the rot began to set in.  
Too often, Can cross the thin line between wandering and 
meandering, nomadism and onanism. New member Rosko Gee's 
vocal's on "Call Me" is awfully prog-rock. The 15 minute 
"Animal Waves" is formula Can (a pan-global, sensurround 
groove, synths that wax and wane, simmering percussion, an 
exotic, sampled Arabic vocal) that never ignites into magic. 
"Don't Say No" bubbles and froths jauntily enough, but its 
lyric of mystical affirmation must have jarred badly with the 
negationist mood of punk.  

"Can" (1978) was their last studio album (until 1989's "Rite Time") and their first without bassist Holger Czukay (the group's heartbeat).  It's not a bad swansong. "All Gates Open" mismatches hokey harmonic with cosmic jaccuzzi synth-whorls, over a crisp-and-spry James Brown pulse. "Sodom" is yet another epic of iridiscent 
amorphousness, but must have sounded mighty flatulent next to 
the anorexic, angular demystification rock of the day (Gang  
Of Four etc). Bizarrely enough, "Aspectacle" - with it boogie guitar, in-the-pocket funk groove, swoogly noises and Michael Karoli's stoned, nonsense vocals - sounds uncannily like Happy Mondays. Even on their last legs, Can were as ahead of their time as ever.



CAN 
entry in Spin Guide to Alternative Music (1995)
[grades adjusted retrospectively to reflect true assessment]

by Simon Reynolds


Monster Movie (1969; Spoon/Mute 1990) [8]
Can Delay 68 (rec.1968/9, released 1981; Spoon/Mute 1990) [6]
Soundtracks (1970; Spoon/Mute 1990) [8]
Tago Mago (1971; Spoon/Mute 1990) [10]
Ege Bamyasi (1972; Spoon/Mute 1990) [8]
Future Days (1973; Spoon/Mute 1990) [10]
Soon Over Babaluma (1974; Spoon/Mute 1990) [10]
Landed (1975; Spoon/Mute 1990) [8]
Unlimited Edition (1976; Spoon/Mute 1990) [8]
Flow Motion (1976; Spoon/Mute 1990) [6]
Saw Delight (1977; Spoon/Mute 1990) [2]
Out of Reach (Peters Int'l) [1]
Can (1979; Spoon/Mute 1990) [6]
Rite Time (1989; Spoon/Mute 1994) [7]
Cannibalism 1 (compilation; Spoon/Mute 1990) [7]
Cannibalism 2 (Spoon/Mute 1992) [7]
Anthology -- 25 Years (Spoon/Mute 1994) [8]
Cannibalism 3 (Spoon/Mute 1994) [7]


As creators of a unique sound-world of wanderlust and wonderment, Can are up there with Hendrix and Miles Davis. Each phase of Can's meandering career has opened up vast vistas of fertile terrain for subsequent bands to colonise and cultivate: avant-funk (Talking Heads, PiL, Cabaret Voltaire), trance-rock (Loop, f/i, Cul de Sac), lo-fi (Pavement, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282) and post-rock (Bark Psychosis, Laika).  As well inspiring solitary eccentrics from Brian Eno to Mark E. Smith to '90s ambient guru Mixmaster Morris, Can also uncannily anticipated many moves made by entire genres of contemporary 'sampladelic' music, such as ethno-techno, jungle and ambient hip hop. Basically, when it comes to psychedelic dance music, those crafty Krauts wrote the goddamn book.

     Can's core members--bassist Holger Czukay, keyboardist Irmin Schmidt, drummer Jaki Liebezeit and guitarist Michael Karoli--came from avant-garde and improv-jazz backgrounds; Czukay and Schmidt had both studied with Stockhausen.  But instead of exploring aleatory noise or jerky time signatures, Can discovered--through The Velvet Underground, and later via James Brown--the Zen-power of repetition and restriction. Minimalism and mantra-ism were hallmarks of the Krautrock aesthetic, but what set Can apart from their peers was their fervent embrace of groove.  Like Miles' early '70s albums ("On The Corner", "Dark Magus" etc), Can's best work fuses 'black' funk with 'white' neo-psych freakitude.  Recording in their own studio in a Cologne castle, the band adopted a jam- and-chop methodology similar to that used by Miles and his producer Teo Macero: improvise for hours, then edit the best bits into coherent tracks. As the band's Macero figure, Czukay worked miracles with a handful of mikes and two-track recording.  Can's proto-ambient spatiality actually diminished when they went to 16 track in the mid-70s!

   Early Can is a sort of kosmik garage-punk that combines the metronomic drive of the Velvets with the abstraction of Barrett-era Pink Floyd: over the throbbing Liebezeit & Czukay rhythm-engine, singer Malcolm Mooney (and later his successor Damo Suzuki) yowl acid-visionary drivel or onomatopeiac nonsense.  Highlights of this 1968-69 period include "Father Cannot Yell", "Yoo Doo Right" and the awesome 15 minute rumble of "Mother Sky".

     Named after a sorcerer, *Tago Mago* contains Can's most disorientating, shamanic work. Torn between two impulses- James Brownian motion and post-Floyd chromatic flux--the double album ranges from the polyrhythmic roil of "Mushroom" and "Oh Yeah", to "Augmn"'s dub-reverberant catacombs, to the fractal sound-daubings and scat-gibberish of "Peking O".  A meisterwerk.

     After the tense angst-funk of *Ege Bamyasi*, with its sharply etched guitar and crisp beats, Can's music literally seems to blossom with *Future Days* and *Soon Over Babaluma* (two glorious summers in a row, after the rotten weather that shadowed *Bamyasi*, is the band's own explanation).  Can's octopus-limbed ethnofunkadelia is as succulently sensuous and touchy-feely prehensile as a rain forest or coral reef.  At once light-hearted and urgent-like-your-life's-breath, the music embodies the band's Zen creed of mystic-materialism: pantheistic awe, take the world in a love embrace, every day is Mother Earth's Day, etc. So *Future Days*'s title track is a shimmering aural vision of Paradise Regained, while the side-long "Bel Air" is as beatific as a sea otter basking off the coast of British Columbia. On *Babaluma*, the balmy, aromatic "Come Sta La Luna" sways to an undulant, off-kilter tango rhythm, but it's Side Two's sequence of "Chain Reaction"/"Quantum Physics" that is Can's absolute zenith. "Chain" is all flow-motion effervescence and iridescence, sonic hydraulics as ear-baffling as Escher's aquaducts and weirs are eye-confounding; "Quantum Physics" is a chaos theorem, funk translated into abstruse, polydimensional equations.  Czukay's percussive/melodic bass and Liebezeit's Morse Code drum resemble the mandible-clicking telecommunication of the insect world.

     Can's late '70s albums replay the *Future/Babaluma* phase's mystic and musical motifs, but with steadily diminishing returns and a rising whimsy-quotient.  *Landed* is their last great album. Its highlight is the protozoan amorphousness of "Unfinished", 13 minutes of aural paella (looks a mess, tastes great).  Other fine collage-tracks and 'musaics', like the 19 minute "Cutaway", appear on *Unlimited Edition*--a grab-bag of unreleased goodies recorded between 1968 and '75, ranging from exquisite addenda to *Babaluma* like "Ibis", to items from the Ethnological Forgery Series (affectionate pastiches of genres like trad jazz).  Back in the studio, Can's muse was ailing.  The stylistic puree got lumpy with *Flow Motion*, as reggae and blues entered the mixing bowl.  *Saw Delight* is a prog-rock frightmare, probably thanks (no thanks) to newbies Rosko Gee and Reebop Kwaku Baah (ex-Traffic), who gradually displaced the disenchanted Czukay. *Out of Reach* was so uninspired that it's never been reissued. The band rallied slightly for the sprightly swan-song *Can*, parts of which bizarrely pre-empt Happy Mondays' guttersnipe disco.  Ten years later, the band re-united for the surprisingly excellent, if scarcely earthshattering (the world had caught up with them by then) *Rite Time*; the highpoint, "Like A New Child", is possibly Can's most gorgeous groovescape since *Babaluma*.

     During the decade-long diaspora between break-up and brief reunion, the Can clan flowed everywhichway; *Cannibalism 3*, a sampler of their solo work and collaborations, will help you navigate the delta of stimulating, if seldom wholly satisfying, music. Czukay's six solo albums and sundry link-ups (with David Sylvian, Jah Wobble et al) are probably the most compelling; *Movies*, with its pioneering shortwave-sample of Iranian pop on "Persian Love", is something of a classic.  Schmidt's soundtrack work (reissued on the triple-CD *Anthology*) is always interesting, if lacking Can's rhythmic intensity. As for introductions to Can itself, *Anthology--25 Years* is the most up-to-date selection.  It's a comprehensive crash- course for the cash-restricted, that inevitably skips Can's longer--and wilder--excursions.                                              


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Adamski

Adamski

The Observer, 23 September 1990

by Simon Reynolds 

Chaos is a word with special resonance for Adam Tinley, better known as Adamski. He even named his canine companion Dis after Discordia, the goddess of chaos.
"Music and madness" entered Adam's life when, as a precocious nine-year-old, he was freaked out by the spectacle of the Sex Pistols playing 'Pretty Vacant' on Top Of The Pops. By the time he was 11, he had his own "kiddy punk band", the Stupid Babies.
Throughout the ’80s, Adam nurtured an admiration for the former Sex Pistols' manager Malcolm McLaren, with his scams and subterfuges, and his slogan "cash from chaos". By 1986, Adam had formed Diskord Datkord, a Dadaist pop group, whose live performances frequently ended with the band performing entirely naked.
"Johnny Slut was ultra-camp and manic, a cross between Cilla Black and Robocop," recalls Adam. "My brother's role was sampling bits of what we were singing and hurling it back at us. The rest of the music was on tape. Our show was an extravaganza of visual and aural chaos. Most of our gigs culminated with the promoter pulling the plug, and us trashing the venue as a reprisal."
Chaos continues to be the guiding principle behind Adam's bewildering career trajectory. Last year, Adam was in demand on the rave scene as a live performer of acid house, which is usually a studio-based genre, and quickly garnered the tag of "keyboard wizard", a term which Adam himself finds nauseating.
But after the chart success of his instrumental single 'N-R-G' and the album Live and Direct, Adam confounded his image as a "Nineties Rick Wakeman", by releasing 'Killer'. A brilliant slice of futuristic blues, 'Killer' occupied the Number One spot for a month, thanks in no small measure to the harrowing, deep soul vocals of Adam's friend and collaborator Seal.
Now Adamski has confounded expectations again, by following the "heavy" statement of 'Killer', with the whimsical, deliberately throwaway 'The Space Jungle', a house track over which Adam sings Elvis Presley's 'All Shook Up' in a reedy tenor, and which is currently in the Top 10. 'The Space Jungle' is further evidence of Adam's desire to confuse. "I don't use formulas, and I do change every time I come up with a record," says Adam. "There's no method or masterplan."
But there is one element of continuity in Adam's career: his technophile attitude. He's constantly exhilarated by "all the great new machines for making music the Japanese come up with", while his videos are littered with sci-fi imagery.
The video for 'Killer' presented Adam as a Nineties alchemist. "When I was messing about with all the test tubes and buttons it was meant to look like I'd somehow made Seal's head." Like Betty Boo and S'Express, Adam takes a camp delight in off-beat ideas from previous eras of what the future would be like. The video for 'The Space Jungle' imagines an Elvis look-alike contest in outer space.
Adam also identifies with Saint-Exupery's hero the Little Prince and his castaway existence on a tiny asteroid. Adam's fragile, little-boy-lost demeanor (reminiscent of early Gary Numan), is probably the reason why he's the first teenybopper pin-up to emerge from the rave scene.
Not that Adam's exactly happy about this state of affairs.
"When I used to play raves, I never appeared onstage with lights, I was more like a DJ. When the album came out, it didn't even have my picture on it." But now certain, seminal acid-house producers like Frankie Bones have singled out Adamski as an opportunist, someone who used the rave scene as a stepping stone. Adam is adamant that the accusation is unfair.
"I started playing on the scene simply because I was going to raves a lot. I wanted to contribute something. It's true that I've always wanted to be a pop star, but I also just chanced to get into the scene, like a lot of others. A lot of pop stars have emerged from it."