Sometimes in Autumn

tracksandtracesdon_1482986cI’ve finally finished wading through David Stubbs’ Future Days book on Krautrock, having bought it in September. It’s quite a good read, and I’m beginning to regret not making the time to see him talking about it at Psychfest. His profiles of Can and Neu! are particularly worth reading and the back stories behind each band are genuinely interesting. There are some great stories of the time (if you pick it up, and envisage not making it through to the end, do at least search out the chapter about the less-than-successful attempts by the head of Ohr records, Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser, to get Timothy Leary to record an album, whilst on the run from the CIA). He also refers to a pretty remarkable YouTube clip, involving Kaiser and a particularly radical musician called, Nikel Pallat, who loses it spectacularly during a televised arts discussion about the overthrow of capitalism:

 

The desk stands up remarkably well, no? (Some metaphors write themselves…)

Stubbs’ passages about specific songs and particularly about the kosmische bands all get a bit NME at times, but I can forgive him this – writing about actual music is a tricky business (the last seven years of PP have at least taught us this…) – dancing about architecture, for sure…

It’s got me going back through Can again and if anything enjoying the first two Neu! records even more than before. I’ve “discovered” the splendid, ragged sprawl that is the first Guru Guru LP, I’ve been giving some of the more “difficult” Faust tracks another go and I’ve even gained a grudging respect (if not affection) for Kraftwerk. But what’s taken me a little by surprise is the extent that I’m also starting to enjoy some of the more ambient elements of the period.

I’ve tended to associate “Krautrock” (a term with which Stubbs, and most of the musicians of the time are pretty unhappy btw) with the noisier, experimental guitar bands, and above all with the “Dingerbeat”, the relentless, locomotive rhythm patterns, propelled by Neu!’s Klaus Dinger. To be honest, I’ve always felt that ambient sounds are, well, a tiny bit dull and just a tad pretentious. I remember a friend of mine, “back in the day”, telling me, without a trace of irony, that Tangerine Dream would help him sleep at night… Hmmm…

Re-listening to this however, and I may be on the turn (so to speak).

Harmonia ‘76

Harmonia were the first supergroup of Krautrock, formed when Dieter Möbius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Kluster/Cluster started collaborating with the other half of Neu!, Michael Rother. They released three albums, which I’m yet to get to grips with, before drifting apart to work on solo projects. The moment Brian Eno rocked up at the band’s remote farmhouse was the moment when Harmonia turned into Harmonia ’76, and therefore, if I persevere with my glib supergroup metaphor, this would be the moment when der Kream turned into der Blind Faith. Except with better music (and cups of tea).

Eno had already pronounced Harmonia “the world’s most important rock band” so a collaboration was, I guess, always on the cards but I’m not sure the ensuing sessions were ever envisaged as an album in the making. Stubbs reckons it’s “music about making music” – buggered if I know what that means but there’s certainly a comfortableness and a relaxed quality about the tracks they recorded which suggests that the four men were just having a fine old time together. The picture later used as the album cover, depicts the four in their element, I think it’s fair to say, mugs of tea in hand, sitting around grinning amiably, surrounded by tapes, leads and guitars. In the event, the tapes were buried for many years and only released as “Tracks and Traces” in 1997 (indeed a reissue in 2009 unearthed a few extra tracks and there’s talk of still further material in Rother’s possession…).

Giving them a proper listen now, you can hear that there’s some motoric in there, some Kraftwerk plinking too, but to my mind the centre pieces of the session are a few tracks of ambient soundscapes that sound modern still, today, and in 1976 must’ve been really out there…

Now, this sort of ethereal, formless fare is not really my sort of thing at all but I can’t help but find myself returning again and again to it and , well, this track, really – “Sometimes in Autumn”

 

If you’ve persevered throughout the fifteen minutes (I know, but believe me, if this butterfly-brain can do it, you can – and you’ll be rewarded for it…), you’ll have heard a veritable (though fluffy) barrage of Eno-style effects and electronics, which come from a very different place than the jarring recklessness of Can or Faust. The track starts with something of a fanfare of not-really-going-anywhere noodling, but gradually settles down to the measured repetition of a two-note motif that seems to travel through reed beds of echoes and synthesised wails. A helicopter appears to pass over a couple of times, tides seem to come and go, winds envelope you periodically. It’s a funny, old, not entirely-satisfying journey across (I’m imagining) some sort of murky lake with no real destination or feeling that you’ve arrived.

That’s pretty much as far as I’m going to try and go describing it (architects, dancing, remember…) apart from to say that there’s something intriguing and remarkably compelling about it as a piece of music. It’s one of those “can you see what it is, yet?” pieces, except that I’d imagine that those in the know would probably  scoff at the notion of being able to hammer it into your own shape or metaphor. On the other hand, my narcoleptic Tangerine Dream fan of days yore would possibly stroke his beard and suggest that whatever interpretation you give it is … cool. Having given him the smack around the face he would so richly deserve, I’d probably have to concede (privately) that he might actually be right.

Do with it what you will… but do enjoy it.

Lately things don’t seem the same…

1135287621-_DSC0243-(1)-copyI can’t remember whether I’ve blogged about these before. I suspect not, I really should’ve, they are bonkers…

Meridian Brothers

Actually, I’m saying “they”, but the Meridian Brothers is actually the nom-de-guerre of an irrefutably odd Columbian known to his mother as Eblis Alvarez, who’s just had a third European album released by the modish, with-it folk of Soundway – Salvadora Robot.

Alvarez is based in Bogota and although he clearly has a big US record collection, his Meridian Brothers sound is pretty firmly rooted in Columbia and more particularly in the goofy but glorious Amazonian psychedelia that is Chicha. Giant snare drums, over-active cowbells, electric guitars, shakers and graters all build up what is an unmistakeably Latin sound.

Proceedings are dominated, however, by the telepathic interplay between a spectacularly off-kilter organ sound and Alvarez’ wonky guitar work which threads and weaves through each song. It’s a weird, unnatural sound which in other circumstances, you’d be thinking was maybe spooky and other-worldly but, given the Technicolor chaos going on around it, the “other worlds” would be more like Wizard of Oz than Outer Limits.

Witness the eccentricity of the Meridian Brothers (and, while you’re at it, enjoy the shirts…):

 

To be fair, giddy and slightly daft they may at times sound, I’m pretty sure there’s something jolly clever going on here. I’m no musician, and have no understanding whatsoever of how music actually works so the best I can suggest is that it’s as if each note or chord has slid along a couple of notches on the musical stave. The result is that, although it sounds all wrong, once you’re up to speed with it, everything’s still in place, relative to each other, and still “works” in this parallel, Munchkin world.

As if this wasn’t disconcerting enough, instruments and especially vocals are routinely dragged through various Joe Meek-style phasers, whoozers and all manner of other Seussical devices that tweak, distort and generally bewilder the ear.

It’s all pretty demented stuff and Salvadora Robot is certainly a whole lot of fun, but in the absence of anything good on YouTube from it, finish off by taking a look at last year’s champeta slant on Purple Haze:

 

Help me, help me…

Over an ocean away, like salmon…

Alfreda BengeI can occasionally be happily meandering along my own merry way. up, down and along whatever musical corridors I choose, be it 50s Cumbia, 70’s motoric or aggressively hip sounds from the pages of Pitchfork, when a song will stop me dead in my wanderings, courtesy of its beauty, cleverness or just plain majesty.

The fact that Robert Wyatt is often involved may not be a coincidence…

Maryan

 

Maryan is the third track from Wyatt’s 1997 “Shleep” album, a truly wonderful record that includes contributions from Paul Weller, Brian Eno (of course), Phil Manzanera and Wyatt’s soul mate Alfreda Benge (whose beautiful illustrations adorn the covers of this and all his records).

The whole album is reportedly the result of a successful recovery from a debilitating period of insomnia, and whether or not this is true, the prevailing mood of Maryan and many of the other tracks is of soothing release, the welcome arrival of a sense of peace and satisfaction.

The song itself  is seductive, idyllic and simple, taking you on something of a journey, through which you are paddled along by the delicate, insistent guitar work of Belgian guitarist, Philip Catherine. The melody is Catherine’s own, “Nairan”, and features on his 1974 album “September Man”.

 

The lyrics are all Robert Wyatt, however, and typically so, blending elegant images with awkward ugly humour. It’s tempting to think that Maryan might be a real person, awaiting his arrival, but I suspect not, “Maryan” being just one letter away from making the reverse of Nairam. It could, of course, be simultaneously person, place and concept or even, as one earnest blogger would have it “simply a kind of atonal note set off in a harmonic context “. Wyatt is a famously (intimidatingly) intelligent man and I for one am not about to make (even more of) a fool of myself, attempting to pin down a beautiful lyric such as this.

The shining heart of the song, however, is Wyatt’s trembling, frail vocals. The song begins prettily enough with rolling acoustic bass and his own gorgeous, slightly clumsy trumpet, over which Philip Catherine’s guitar babbles sweetly. The thrill I get (“I get” – it can’t just be me, can it?) when I hear the opening lyrics, double-tracked and surprisingly assertive, is right up there with any other musical highpoint I can right now think of.

I could really go off on one about “Maryan”, as I think I have done in the past about “Sea Song” and “Free Will and Testament” (another Shleep track) but let’s just leave it at that. Even in my  fractured world of Psychedelia and Freakbeat, Cumbia and Chicha, Krautrock and Psychfest occasionally moments of quiet loveliness do occasionally intrude…

I want what’s behind the moon…

DSC_0409My Psychfest adventure now a flickering tea-light in the distance, I thought I’d pretty much had my fill of bands linked with the omnipresent “psychedelia” tag in whatever questionable fashion. Truth be told I’ve bought a few “homework” records on this basis that I’m not really enjoying. Seemed to spend a fair bit of time at Psychfest listening to po-faced bands, bass cranked up to eleven, plodding through turgid sets, surrounded by earnest punters, heads bobbing grimly, and I’ve come to the conclusion I can’t be doing with that. All a bit dull, if you ask me. Can’t even say I’m much of a fan of the ubiquitous Ty Segall – I can do small doses, but then I feel like a bit of a lie down, to be honest.

This feller is venturing out West in the New Year, though…

White Fence

White Fence, as you’ll probably all know, are the vehicle of Tim Presley, who’s been around for a good while now, releasing a whole bunch of records, including last year’s Cyclops Reap which I’ve been listening to a lot this week, believing it to be his most recent, until I discovered this year’s Drag City release For The Recently Found Innocent. This is not just me being slow (although clearly…) Presley is genuinely hard to keep up with – I gather he released three records in 2012 alone (including Hair with Ty Segall). What can you do?

(While I think of it, I can’t believe that rock musicians are genuinely born with a name like “Presley”, so I’m guessing he’s changed his name at some point – I really hope it was the Troggs he had in mind…)

White Fence records are trebly, twangy affairs, dominated by meandering guitar lines and generic psyche tics – managing to sound like the Pretty Things and Love at one and the same time. Anyone who’s ever spent more than fifteen minutes in my company will know that I’m a simple fellow and that this will pretty much do it for me.

One of the things I really like about a White Fence record, I think, is that Presley isn’t afraid to turn the bass down. I know I sound like my Dad at this point, but I’m a bit fed up of not being able to hear anything but bass and drums at gigs. Truth be told, it’s becoming a bit of a thing… Cyclops Reap, by contrast is full of shrill delights, punctuated throughout by loose-stringed, winding guitar breaks, venturing only occasionally into the realms of fuzz and wah-wah. It’s a record that apparently signals Presley’s emergence from lo-fi productions into more professional productions but really these things are all relative. You’d not really say it’s a polished record…

There’s not too much proper video of White Fence, not even any “official” stuff, but I like this footage of a set at something called Phuzz Phest, the first track, Anger! Who Keeps You Under? featuring the man himself bowing his guitar Eddie Phillips-style. Perfect!

A German Soft Machine

download

Ah um.

While we’re at it, following on from the previous posts, I have some Swiss-German krautrock tracks to share too.

Klaus Johann Grobe

Having done a quick post on these two chaps before Psychfest, I bought the new album – Im Sinne Der Zeit – and did some proper homework on them. It’s a pretty good record, full of clumpy beats and melodramatic organ swirls – a German Soft Machine if you will…

Last set on the oddly shaped Blade corner-stage, with Besnard Lakes on the one main stage and the dazzling, wonderful Suuns on another, I’d imagined there’d not be so many around for this one, but I was of course wrong. The small area filled up quickly and soon get very warm indeed. In truth, what seemed like a very long wait while the three members fiddled around with leads and sounds, made more than a few punters a little irritable (by the end of the weekend, I was heartily fed up of the sight of earnest young musos pointing to the ceiling and mouthing “more, more, turn it up!” to the sound desk).

Anyway, eventually they got it sorted and kicked off into a marvellously gloopy, occasionally menacing, occasionally funky set, dominated by the syrupy electric organ of Sevi Landolt. The extra third member of the group was a bassist and he managed to drive the proceedings along with pace and purpose.

The two strongest tracks from the record – “Kothek” and “Between the Buttons” – made early appearances which launched a sweaty bunch of punters off straight away but did mean the set tailed off a little.

Again, quite a lot of “atmosphere” in the recordings but well worth a little listen:

Raus

Between the Buttons

Aufstand

Out on the water’s where you’re gonna find me

Allah-Las_Press_Photo-640x424Well, back from Psychfest. A good time was had by all – loads of good bands, a few average ones, a chance to meet up with a few old friends. Yeah it was a good time, although in truth, not as all-encompassingly brilliant as some of the summer festivals I’ve been to. There’s no substitute for a massive field to bask around in when it’s all getting a bit too much for you. Psychfest was, of course, a much smaller affair and there was nowhere really to get away to – it was a bit like being in a giant 14-hour psychedelic ironworks at times.

Set my recorder to “everything” for the weekend, but unfortunately (I’ve a feeling you know what’s coming here)… well, let’s just draw a discrete veil over it and say there was an “operator failure” and that I didn’t get as many sets as I’d hoped. Sadly, one of the casualties was a stonking Saturday evening set by Woods, the last that I saw of the weekend. They were really very good, re-frying the more pastoral set I’d seen at End of the Road to one that was a little more suited to the occasion.

I did, however, captured this lot:

The Allah-Las

Actually, this was the best set of the weekend, and sad though I was to lose the Woods one, if I’d had to choose…

Strolling out of the desert like a Da Capo Love, all fringed jackets and beatle boots, the Allah-Las looked every inch the study in sixties cool that they clearly are. I’d had to choose between seeing them or the highly promising Early Years where a number of my more-knowing friends were, but I didn’t regret it for a moment. They were brilliant.

From the opening bars of “No Werewolf” right to the closing twangs of a glittery 45-minute set, they were very tight and strutted through a series of tracks from their two records with a needle-sharp guitar sound and a groove that set a drunken crowd jigging and, well, frugging (no other word for it…)

Cracking versions of “Catamaran”, with all its Stones / Standells echoes and more of that acerbic, twangy guitar, “I Had It All”, “Busman’s Holiday” and really pretty much the whole set – all of it skin-tight, none of it straying over the four-minute mark.

Quite a lot of noise over the recordings, I’m afraid, but that was a feature of the whole weekend. Although that annoyed me at times over the two days, here, with groovy youngsters jumping about enthusiastically, chatting, singing along, it just felt like I was in my own bootleg “live” album in a Seeds on Sunset Strip style…

Here’s a little selection:

501-415

Busman’s Holiday

Catamaran

Sandy

The usual stuff: love, personal struggles, society’s stupidness, nonsense…

klausjohanngrobe_1Standing in The Shed, glimmering floodlights ushering in the start of the Gloucester-Exeter game is probably not the first place that would occur to you to receive a bit of a “hot tip” about Kosmische sounds to catch at Psychfest. Actually, I’ve certainly had stranger conversations waiting for the rugby to start (“Krautrock” turns up more often than you might think…) and the bearer of said hot tip, my mate Steve, has been known to come up with some diamonds…

Klaus Johann Grobe

It’s not clear quite whether Steve is operating from a position of exhaustive research, having studied the Klaus Johann Grobe catalogue, read all the relevant Quietus articles and rifled through the Internet for obscure German blogs, or whether in best Partly Porpoise fashion he has been drawn moth-like to the pretty blue flame that a name like Klaus Johann Grobe clearly conjures up. (I’m saying nothing… although I clearly owe him a drink…)

 

My own exhaustive research has revealed that KJG are actually a duo (neither of whom are called Klaus or indeed Johann); are not German but Swiss, based in Zurich and signed to good ole Trouble in Mind and are a little more Daft Punk and a little less Neu than the name suggests. (You want more? C’mon? You never heard of Pitchfork?)

This clip suggests it’s going to be a great weekend…

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