Exactly two months! I didn’t plan for that to happen! I actually finished listening to all these record maybe two weeks ago, but didn’t have time time to write about them until now.
So far this is working really well for me. I get to listen to a lot of new music while going back to stuff. There’s no rush, but there’s always the motivation to find more new music.
1. Faust – Faust So Far 
I’m writing this as I’m listening to this record a third time. It’s not as catchy as IV, which isn’t to say that IV is poppy! What I mean by catchy is that IV has more songs, and they’re weird songs, but they’re songs. So Far has fewer “songs”, and it’s mostly sort of jams that are reminding me American psychedelia. So my point is that it’s not as easy to get hooked on this record as it was with IV. Also, I think that the “songs” songs weren’t as good.
One thing I noticed is that they use I’ve Got my Car and my TV in Faust IV (Picnic on a Frozen River, Deuxieme Tableaux), but it’s way goofier here.
2. Morton Subotnick – The Wild Bull 
I re-watched I Dream of Wires a couple of weeks ago and I really enjoyed hearing Subotnick talk about the first Buchla and some ideas he had (and still has) about music. He didn’t just want to expand the vocabulary of music, but also to make music accessible to people who aren’t musicians. He talks more about these ideas in this interview. The video is great, but it’s worth anyone’s time to read the full text.
As far as the record itself, it continues what he started with Silver Apples of the Moon. Definitely broadening the musical and sonic vocabulary, but I think this one might be a tiny bit more approachable in the sense that there are more rhythms and sometimes even melodies. The beginning of Part B is great in that sense, but the whole record is fun to listen to. Also, full sonic spectrum on this record. Ridiculous low end and a lot of popping high frequency noises.
3. John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman – Self-Titled 
This is a Facebook recommendation. From the way people talked about it, and I think phrases like “opened my mind” were thrown, I thought this will be a very different record – free jazz, but maybe bridging the gap between what people view as jazz and free jazz. I thought also that Johnny Hartman is a piano player, but he’s a crooner. That probably tells you what kind of a record this is!
Because I totally misread the conversation about this record, I was a little disappointed that this is an easy-listening/soft jazz record with crooning vocals, but it’s been growing on me with each listen. The solos are pretty good, and Johnny Hartman has an amazing voice, although the crooning definitely puts a time-stamp on the whole thing, so I enjoy the solos a lot more than when he sings.
4. Tangerine Dream – Atem 
I keep wanting to compare this record to Zeit, and that’s unfair. I mean, they probably didn’t try to make the same record again, and why would they? But still, Zeit is amazing, and I want more of it, but not exactly more like it. Also, these two records were released a year apart.
Zeit has certain finesse to it that Atem is lacking. Zeit builds up so slowly, almost excruciatingly slow, but there’s always enough progression to keep the listener hooked. It’s kind of difficult to explain this without listening to Zeit. The timbre of Zeit is also unique, because the cellos mix in with the synths to create this one complex sound. Atem has interesting elements, but it lacks the finessed progression and timbre uniformity. The title track has a lot of layers that are introduced at once and feel detached from one another, but not in the sense where they don’t fit, but in the sense that they don’t intertwine as well as they do on Zeit.
The rest of the record has a lot of what I always call “sounds of the forest” (did I use that before? probably), and those sounds truly do sound like sounds from a forest, and it’s cool because it was new back then, but I feel like there’s not a lot behind it. I might be wrong in saying this, but I think they might have gotten caught up in the equipment and lost track of the music. They play a lot with where sounds are panned, and there are weird sounds on, and a lot of synths, and it all amounts to something, and that something isn’t bad, but also doesn’t really floor me.
(God damn, this turned into a review AND a comparison to Zeit.)
5. The Necks – Vertigo 
These guys are playing Chicago this week (not the week when this post will finally be finished), and I never heard of them before so I decided to check them out.
My understanding is that their performances and records are just them continuously improvising for about an hour without a predefined theme. Or maybe there’s a theme that they know about, but the point is that the listener doesn’t hear a melody or a chord progression that is then improvised on. However, they do resurrect themes within the piece, but never in a reprise kind of way. Even though it’s all improvised, musically it’s not jazz, unless we broaden the definition of jazz, and it’s actually kind of closer to krautrock.
EDIT: I saw them live. It was really good and a much different experience from just listening to the record. The drummer was really fun to watch. He never once played a beat or hit the snare with a stick. During the second set he played the hihat in a way I never heard anyone play it. He was sort of riding it but was getting these crazy resonances out of it. A truly unique drummer. Both sets were different from each other and different from the record, and I really won’t do it any justice by trying to describe it. I also take back what I said about it being jazz. This is what jazz sounds like in 2016. It’s improvised, it has the same instruments that jazz music has (bass, drums, piano), so I’m calling it – it’s jazz.
6. Eliane Radigue – Vice Versa, etc. 
If my understanding is correct, Eliane Radigue made those pieces for an installation. Later she pressed a few copies of it, and in 2009 they were reissued as a 2xCD thing.
These pieces are described as “feedback on magnetic tape”, and what I believe this means is that she fed one tape machine into another, and then back into the first, so they naturally started oscillating and feedbacking, and she was controlling it with input/output level potentiometers on the machines. At least I think that’s what she did. Basically, it’s a drone.
I like that it’s a step further from Western music, and I like the way it sounds, but it’s impossible to listen to it while doing anything else. If I don’t let myself be enveloped by the music, then a lot of the minute details are lost. I’m also not sure it makes sense to always sit through all eight of the tracks, because while they’re somewhat different, they’re still conceptually the same, so I keep thinking, “what did she achieve in one track that she didn’t achieve in another?”
I decided to try and answer that question so I googled this record, and I stumbled across a Pitchfork review of it. In it it says that the eight pieces are really one piece, played at four different speeds, and backwards, and that Radigue meant for the listener to choose the order of the pieces and which ones to play together. So, yeah, I totally missed the point!
(I gotta try and mix and match the pieces!)
7. Popol Vuh – Hosianna Mantra 
I only listened to this record once, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. It’s kind of vanilla, and doesn’t fit with any of the krautrock I listened to so far. It just doesn’t sound very experimental. For instance, the first half of the record is guitar, piano, and sometimes a female vocalist. The guitar is playing sort of blues-y stuff, the piano is, eh, I don’t know, doing its mellow thing, and the singer is la-di-da-ing over it. She’s not pulling a Renate Knaup (who later joined Popul Vuh). If krautrock is counterculture music (which it is), then this record sounds like a later Pink Floyd record more than anything. I guess it’s neither Schlagger or American or British “blues” rock, but it’s also not pushing the envelope, really.
Maybe it’s a matter of expectations, and that soured my opinion. Maybe now that those false expectations are out of the way I’ll get what this record is about.
8. Charlemagne Palestine – Strumming Music (For Piano, Harpsichord, And Strings Ensemble) 
Charlemagne Palestine is another musician I’ve been meaning to listen to for a while now, and after the Necks’ first set (see earlier in this post), I was talking to my friends who also went and one of them mentioned how the piano playing was reminiscent of Charlemagne Palestine. That was enough to get me to try and check him out.
I’m not sure how to describe what’s going on here, so I’ll start with the basics that can be figured out with googling. There are three tracks and they’re all in the same “style”. However, the first track is solo piano played by Palestine himself, while the second is harpsichord (not played by CP), and the third is played by a string ensemble. All the pieces, of course, were written by Palestine, which is weird because I thought Palestine improvised more. Also, I have no idea how one write a 50 piano piece like the one on this record. Anyway, the piano piece was recorded in the 70s and I believe it was released on its own, and this reissue (and maybe a few earlier ones?) include the other pieces.
So the solo piano piece is ~52 minutes long and it’s an incredibly unique slice of music. Even though the Necks were sort of similar in some ways, the two are still quite different and Charlemagne Palestine sounds just as fresh to me. Yet, I still don’t know how to describe what’s going on there. If you ever listened to music that was done with loops that are going in and out of phase, then it kind of sounds like that, except it’s not loops and he’s playing everything himself live. There are a lot of resonances going on and just sitting in front of the speakers I start hearing things that aren’t there. At times it sounds like there’s another piano playing, but then when I shift my focus I can tell that it’s only one piano.
Like I said earlier, the other two tracks are similar, but they don’t hit the mark quite as well as the solo piano piece.
9. Laurie Spiegel – The Expanding Universe 
As my interest in krautrock is splitting into minimalism, I asked a friend to recommend some minimalist music. He recommended Laurie Spiegel’s The Expanding Universe.
Spiegel created all these tracks while she worked at Bell Labs in the 70s, but I’m not sure at what capacity she worked there (programmer? music/technology researcher like Max Matthews?), but she created these four tracks, and a bunch more that came out when the record was reissued in 2012.
Musically, I really like this record, but the sounds drive me nuts. What I mean by that is that the synthesizer sounds are all very cliche, and almost 8-bit sounding. I’m sure this was by design because Laurie Spiegel doesn’t look like someone who would consider the sounds as an afterthought, but it is really grating to my ears. The last track, The Expanding Universe, has better sounds although they’re also a bit cliche. It is also my favorite piece on the record (original issue, not the reissue).
10. Tony Conrad with Faust – Outside the Dream Syndicate 
Tony Conrad just passed away and I had no idea who he was until now, so I asked a friend to recommend a few of his works. He said I might find his with collaboration with Faust self-indulgent, but I still had to check it out because it’s with Faust. His description was, “you know ‘It’s a Rainy Day’ from So Far? so imagine that, but slower and with a violin drone”. It’s a pretty good description,because it is similar in that way to “Rainy Day”, but it’s so much more than just that. There are subtle changes in the drums and bass, and the violin playing is quite amazing – obviously inspired by the Tanpura that’s used in Indian music, but different enough where I don’t think it’s just some dude trying to play classical Indian music.
The second track, From the Side of the Machine, offers more variation in the drumming and bass playing than the first, all the while still maintaining violin drones. Oh man, this track also has a lot more weird noises that just pop up on either side of the stereo all of a sudden. It kind of feels like they were warming up with the first track and then jammed this one out. Yowza!
I think that the similarity between this and Faust (what I know of their catalog) ends with the drum beat, but from what I know about them, it seems like this was absolutely up their alley.