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29 July 2014

Faust - 'So Far' (Recommended)

I've always envisioned Faust as a bit of a 'boy band', in the sense that they were put together by Uwe Nettelbeck to capitalise on the psychedelic craze. The best line from Wikipedia's entry on the first album is definitely "In 1971, Polydor entered a deal with Uwe Nettelbeck to assemble a musical ensemble that could compete with the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and Small Faces." So they're basically the Backstreet Boys of their time! Again, it's hard to decide on the pinnacle of Faust's first four albums because they're all so fucking perfect, but So Far might be the most cohesive record of them as a 'band'. It's more diverse than the debut, opening with 'It's a Rainy Day Sunshine Girl' which is typically attributed as indebted to the Velvet Underground, but I hear more of the Godz in it, plus a hint of soul. Really! That's what my soul looks like. 'No Harm' is the one I like to play when I DJ, though I never remember the name of it ("Daddy, take a banana, Tomorrow is Sunday!", yeah that one) and when turned up LOUD, it sounds absolutely goddamned fucking incredible. This is Faust almost pissing out perfect, spazzy guitar-psych just because they can, and it's somehow a bit Dada and distinctly European and yet menacing and accessible simultaneously. They also manage to sound like Throbbing Gristle on 'Mamie is Blue', and spin some delicate folk moments with 'On the Way to Abamae'. It's occasionally goofy, like when the voices all line up on 'I've Got My Car and My TV', but more often it has a haunting, challenging darkness that spins a web of associations for me. There's actually less tape manipulations and studio fuckery here than I remember - it's really an album of songs, yet it's hard to grasp what these guys are actually about. I find something quite expressive among all these confusing branches, but then they had me at the first album. This is another reissue but one that has the beautiful prints inside, though the paper slipcase holding them is so tight that I rarely take them out. It was the last of the original four to get a CD re-release (or at least it was hella difficult to find in 1999) and thus the one I came to latest, so in many ways it still sounds the freshest, and it's a beautiful, inspiring package.

Faust (Recommended)

I got into Krautrock while a sophomore in college, circa 1998-99, and at the time I devoured all the big names (or at least what was available to me in the pre-Napster days, with a limited budget). You can read already my thoughts on Agitation Free, Cosmic Jokers, and Dzyan; but the "big names" as I saw it, probably thanks to Julian Cope's privileging of them in his book, were Can, Düül and Faust. (In my mind I always grouped Neu!, Harmonia, Ash Ra Tempel and Brainticket into a 'second tier' which is pretty stupid --Brainticket were Swiss, after all -- but, hey, we take easily presented narratives and stick with them, especially when 19). My point is that Faust seemed like one of the essentials of Krautrock and to me they were the best. The absolute best. My compass is always wavering on which of the first four Faust albums I like the best, but you can make a strong case for any of them. This one tends to get overlooked, maybe because it has the least "songy" bits, and also because it probably wasn't as big of a seller. Years later, after having dug through the NWW list and all the obscure surrealist treasures that have been unearthed through blogs and reissue labels, Faust "1" (as I like to call it) stands out as something special. The overall presentation is ace - clear cover and vinyl, mysterious lack of info, creepy/scary X-ray fist - and then three stunning tracks. I first found a CD reissue of this secondhand and played it to death, but this vinyl version (a reissue from the late 70s, I think) really makes the tones pop out. This is extremely left-field when compared to a lot of the other kozmiche music happening at the time, due to the collaged nature and odd pop/folk forms that are woven throughout - but I think it actually sounds quite distinct from a lot of the less jammy, more surreal freak music of the 70s, like Mahogany Brain or Jac Berrocal too. This is 1971, and that's notable as well, because it somehow feels like a blueprint for the 70s to come, clearly built from the psychedelic times of the 60s, but completely singular as well. There's only three cuts here, and the first side is pretty iconic, with its melting marching band and 'a wonderful wooden reason'.... but it's 'Miss Fortune' that I really love to listen to. It's a beautiful composition, even when it feels discordant, and it introduces the Faust tradition of ending the albums with genteel acoustic bits. Whenever other artists are compared to Faust, it's usually because they have a short attention span or collaged together a bunch of different styles a la Tapes. But who's out there capturing the mystery, the enigma, and the spectacle? Faust in the Internet age surely couldn't happen anyway...

4 July 2014

Family Underground - 'Familiar Places' (Into The Lunar Night)

So many contradictions here! These Danes are about the sweetest, kindest people you'll ever meet, but their music often sounds like the devotional chants of a murderous cult. The title is 'familiar places' but the only familiar imagery this will conjure is an imagined nocturnal bender with distant, ever-ungraspable shrieks in the distance and a pulsating ur-drone throughout. That is to say, this is a pretty great album that somehow transcends the ecstatic drone scene it was birthed from and has lots of peers (Double Leopards, Birds of Delay, etc.) while still somehow retaining a distinct quality. The centrepiece, 'Valley of 1xxx Smokes', sounds a bit like the mid-fi horizontalism of Newcastle's Culver, though with extra members to sweeten the deal with melodicas, tinkering bells and other not-quite-identifiable sounds. It's not too obvious, but works up enough steam that having to break in the middle to flip the LP is actually a detriment. Family Underground seem to flirt between organic, pastoral drone and darker, industrial-tinged rattling; it's a delicate balance than shifts its weight even in the same track. And when 'Hellish Design' rolls around to close up, it feels sufficient, a band that hasn't outstayed their welcome and knows exactly what they are converging on.