Almost three months since the last entry. For what it’s worth, I think I finished listening to all these records almost a month ago, but writing something substantial about them required more time. Also, school as well as other things had gotten busy. I don’t know why I’m explaining myself to… myself.
Sort of strayed a little bit from Krautrock. There’s Joy Divison here, as well as Autechre and Plaid, and Chuck Brown. I think the next “week” will have more Kraut in it.
1. Kraftwerk – Autobahn 
I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I’m reading David Stubbs’ Future Days, which as you can guess from the name, is a book about krautrock. I’ve been trying to listen to the music of the bands he talks about as I’m reading the book, and some of them I’ve been familiar with, but now he’s spending a lot of time on Autobahn which I never listened to before in its entirety, so that’s why I’m here.
I listened to the title track before, maybe it was a decade ago, and I wasn’t impressed with it, even though the refrain (fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn”) has been in my head since.
It’s interesting to read what Stubbs writes about the motivation for Autobahn, like how it’s Kraftwerk’s version of an idyllic Germany (or even the whole world?). I don’t know how much I buy into all of it, but I will say that the track Autobahn definitely gives the feeling of driving on an empty highway. What’s funny is that on this first listen, Autobahn is my least favorite track. It’s good, but the second side of the record is a lot more interesting to me, and things really come alive in Kometenmelodie 2 onward.
2. Tony Konrad – Four Violins 
Almost self-explanatory from the title. Four distorted electric violins that drone and sound mostly like screeching doors. I like the droning part of it, but it’s hard to sit in front of the speakers and listen to four screeching doors. If I stand far back, or do something else when this is in the background, then it becomes easier to listen to, and sometimes it sounds like bagpipes playing and not violins. However, I’m right in front of the speakers as I’m writing this, and there are are subtle changes that I’m not sure I’d catch if I were in the kitchen making food.
This is a recurring theme in a lot of the avantgarde music I’ve been listening to. On one hand, it’s tough to sit in front of the speakers for 30-45 minutes and listen to the music because it’s literally not an easy listen. But then if I step back and avert my attention to something else, I also lose a lot of the subtlety of it.
3. Tangerine Dream – Alpha Centauri 
Alpha Centauri came right before Zeit and it is very obvious that it is the precursor to Zeit. It has a lot of the same elements that Zeit has – slow buildups and eerie melodies, a lot of synths, and very few actual drums. It’s not as epic as Zeit, but it’s a good alternative when I don’t have the time to listen to all of Zeit.
4. Stereolab – Not Music 
This record, like Transient Random-Noise, etc. was a slow burner. The first few listens didn’t leave any impressions on me. It was neither good or bad. It was mostly long (still is). But now I’m starting to open up to it and things are clicking.
This record is whimsical – a lot of toy-ish and retro sounds and noises, but at the same time the songs themselves are serious, so it doesn’t sound like Jean-Jacques Perrey, but definitely has his sonic influences. I think this band has found a musical niche and have been exploring it since then. What I mean is that I don’t think they’re straying very far from where they started. If you listen to Transient Random and Not Music you would know that it’s the same band, where with some bands you wouldn’t know, because the circles around their origins are much wider.
5. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures 
My familiarity with Joy Division is anecdotal. I remember watching the live video of She’s Lost Control (you know which one) maybe 10 years ago, and I was totally into it. Then I listened to the record and that song sounded nothing like the live version. I don’t know if that alone turned me off to the rest of the record, or if it’s the fact that the record sounds similar is what turned me off to it. Anyway, here I am again listening to it a decade later.
Even now as I listen to it, I think that the production detracted in some ways from the songs. I like the production, and I know it was revolutionary (still is in some ways), but it reigned in the aggressiveness of some of the songs. It works for some, like New Dawn Fades, but it totally messed up a song like She’s Lost Control. The production makes the album a slow burner for me, because it takes me a while to uncover the songs under Martin Hannett, but at the same time I enjoy his radical ideas for a rock band.
6. Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers – Bustin’ Loose 
So the other day my wife and I were watching TV and then this commercial comes on and it has the best groove, I jump out of my seat and ask her to rewind and she’s like “Uhh, that’s Nelly’s Hot In Herre”, and like yeah I think I heard it before, but don’t really know it. So I spent a few days listening to Nelly’s Hot in Herre, and then I moved on to the song that sampled it, and that’s Chuck Brown’s Bustin’ Loose.
So Bustin’ Loose, the song, is awesome. The record is almost split between ballads and more up-tempo grooving songs. I like the up-tempo songs better because the slow stuff isn’t hitting the spot for me. It’s not like a slow Curtis Mayfield song. The up-tempo ones are good, but keep in mind that they’re not hard hitting grooves. They’re more mellow. Still a good record that I should listen to a couple more times, I think.
7. Kratwerk – The Man-Machine 
I accidentally skipped over Radio-Activity and Trans-Europe Express (I’m going to go back to them), and it’s amazing to hear the difference four years made in this band. This record has less experimentation and more songs, as in verse and chorus and singing (although sometimes vocoderized).
The last two tracks, Neon Lights and The Man-Machine, are more experimental and “meandering” like the old records, and for now, after listening to this record once, I prefer them over the songs.
8. Plaid – The Digging Remedy 
Can’t find an angle with this record. I have stuff to write, but I don’t think I get this record. It’s not an abstract record, so it shouldn’t be hard to get – I just don’t. Here’s what I have:
The only other Plaid record I know is Double Figure, which is fifteen years old, but I don’t feel like The Digging Remedy is that different. Some songs on this new one sound like they could have been made during the time they made Double Figure. The songwriting and a lot of the sounds they get (even though their process now is different) are the same. This disappoints me a bit because I keep holding every record to this ridiculous bar that it has to be groundbreaking. This record isn’t groundbreaking, and it has a few good songs (Do Matter, CLOCK, Yu Mountain, Reeling Spiders), but these songs don’t pull me back like a bunch of songs on Double Figure did. I think if it had more songs that I deemed good I probably wouldn’t complain about how innovative it is (or isn’t).
9. Autechre – Tri Repetae 
I read this interview with Autechre a few weeks ago, and it made me want to keep delving into their discography. These guys are cool. I like how they can talk about what they do without being “my art” kind of people. It’s a good interview to read if you’re at all interested in electronic music and how it’s made today.
I picked this record because in the interview they say how the one before it was the first “weird” record they gave Warp, and Warp loved it and it sold, so then Tri Repetae is where they let loose and do whatever they want. At this point I’ve listened to this record at least ten times, and I still don’t have something substantial to say about it. I like the sounds. It’s very intricate, like a painting with million little details. I also enjoy how some of the sounds are annoying. “Here’s this high pitched buzz/rattle that maybe not everyone is going to like”, but it’s interesting. The tracks themselves don’t floor me. I do like Leterel, Stud, and Rsdio, but the rest leave me ambivalent. It’s frustrating because I like a lot of the sounds and I keep constantly feeling like I’m just missing something crucial. So I want to keep listening to it, but it’s also over an hour long.
10. Can – Soundtracks 
My first listen to this record left me bitter. It didn’t sound like a Can record! It sounded like schmaltz except for maybe a couple of songs. So on my second listen, along which I was writing this entry, I came in trying to defend that bitterness.
The first song is from the movie Deadlock and has the same name. It’s actually a pretty good song that maintains the Can-ness that I’m used to, but it’s pretty short compared to their other songs like it. Tango Whiskeyman, the second track (also from Deadlock), is where I’m reminded of my bitterness. It’s got good groove, but the actual melody is very schmaltzy. Then the chorus comes in and I’m really surprised that they went for this low hanging musical fruit. I tell myself that seeing how two of them were students of Stockhausen and one was a free jazz drummer, it was probably a conscious choice. The song does have a good break in the middle, though. The last song, She Brings the Rain, is also very out of character of Can. It’s a faux jazzy ballad that has no place on a Can record. I mean, I get that that was their thing – they were experimenting and seeing if they could do something like a jazz ballad and make it sound interesting. It’s fine, but I’m not into it.
The only reason I bring up these two songs that I’m not into is to circle back to my previous bitterness – the record is book-ended by them and that’s probably what left a bad taste in my mouth. But most importantly, I think I had a sprout of personal growth here. I didn’t like the record at first and I started writing with the intention to defend my dislike, but then halfway through listening I realized that maybe I just wasn’t listening very closely the first time around. So instead of defending my position before, I decided to open my mind. Cool.
So why is this record great? Because of all the other songs. Mother Sky is a perfect and quintessential Can song, and the others are succinct Can songs. I can see why some people think of it as the best Can record. (I disagree and would probably go with Tago Mago, but that’s for a different post on a different blog.)