18 Jun 2015

"Krautrock - Original Album Series"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

There seems to be some confusion as to what exactly Krautrock is, but one thing is for sure, four of the five albums contained within this new "Original Album Series" don't fit even its broadest definition. While all five albums featured her are the work of German rock bands, none but La Düsseldorf 's essential "Viva" (of which plenty has already been written) really fit under the broad Krautrock umbrella. That little (OK, major) hurdle aside though, this is an excellent set of hard to find albums at a ridiculously cheap price, which I thoroughly recommend, so long as you know what to expect.

"Viva" is a classic of course, the second album from Klaus Dinger's La Düsseldorf, formed after the break up of Neu! It should be one of the first Krautrock albums on your shopping list if you're just starting to investigate, especially if motoric drumming is your thing.

The other four albums here offer a slightly haphazard, but rewarding glimpse of what else was happening in the German underground of the early seventies. Gift were a short lived heavy rock outfit, originally known as "Phallus Dei", and with ties to Subject Esq. and Sahara. Their self titled debut is an above average heavy rock album, with a proto prog vibe that sounds a lot like the music that was coming out of the U.K a year or two earlier - it wouldn't sound out of place on the Vertigo label. There's lots of dual guitar riffing, occasional mellow flute passages, and some appealing scat vocals from Dieter Atterer, who avoids the macho vocal stylings which have dated the music of a lot of the band's contemporaries.

Lucifer's Friend released a number of albums under various names before their own debut, and the self titled album by Asterix is one of these. Kicking off with both sides of an excellent pre-album single which sounds a lot like Traffic, the album proper then starts, with John Lawton taking over on vocals, and the seeds of Lucifer's Friend's start to germinate. There's not much organ work at this point, but otherwise fans of LF will find this a very interesting listen.

Message's third, self-titled album is up next, and while not as interesting as the lengthy space-rock opus which preceded it ("From Books and Dreams"), it's much more interesting than it's detractors would have you believe. It's certainly a bit more smooth, with a prog-jazz tinge that hints at Canterbury, but also favourably compares to Gravy Train's underrated last two albums. And the guitar of Allan Murdoch is frequently inspired, especially on "Waters", the highlight here, with Murdoch's multi tracked guitar solo being a complete mind-melter.

Last, and certainly not least is Parzival's "Legend". Produced by Krautrock legend Conny Plank, "Legend" is a strangely coherent mixture of a number of different underground elements. The songs sound rooted in UK psych-pop, but the instrumentation has much more of a baroque-folk approach, with heaps of flute, violin, cello and the like. The songs are compact, uniformly excellent little creations, but best of all is the side long "Groove Inside", an astounding jam with outbursts of extraordinary, lysergically treated flute.

So, a case of poor marketing for sure, but an excellent selection of albums nonetheless, and at five for the price of less than one, you'd be silly to not grab this one.

Available here (UK/EU), or here (US).

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