28 May

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Harmonia – Live 1974 (2005, Grönland)

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Having grown up in the wake of World War II and come of age during the Wirtschaftswunder, it should perhaps come as a little surprise that a slew of groundbreaking musical groups emerged from Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. Just as the country itself lay in ruins, German culture did not emerge from the war unscathed. The home of Göthe, Kant, Bach, Beethoven, et al. had in some way, been tainted by the poison of national socialism. Paraphrasing his friend Bertolt Brecht, Theodor Adorno claimed that “the palace of German Culture was built of dogshit.” Recognizing the glaring contradiction between culture, the enlightenment, and the inheritance of a continent in ruins, the immediate postwar generation sought to break with their forefathers and craft a new culture all their own. Of the German kosmiche groups which appeared during this period, Harmonia stand out, no small feat when considering Can, Neu!, Kraftwerk, Popul Vuh, Faust, Amon Düül, and Tangerine Dream are among those on a long list of contemporaries. While countless bootlegs and live recordings have been passed to and fro on the vast plains of the internet, this official release by Grönland is a treat and captures the band at their apex. The live setting affords the group greater latitude to really let the tunes breath. “Veterano” clocking in at a tame four minutes on Musik Von Harmonia is an exploratory 18 minute jam retitled “Veteranissimo” on Live 1974. Beyond the confines of the studio and the limits of a formal LP release, the extended jamming on Live 1974 allows the band to bring their tracks to life and carry the listener off to some distant world. Harmonia’s freewheeling brand of electronic psychedelia in general and this release, in particular, is a must for any fan of psychedelic rock, ambient music, electronic, sound art, and the like.

26 May

iu

Holger Czukay – On the Way to the Peak of Normal (1981, Electrola; 2013 reissue, Grönland)

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More restrained and less bizarre than Czukay’s 1979 Movies, 1981’s On the Way to the Peak of Normal feels like the lost alternate soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train. If Movies was a carnivalesque appraisal of rock music, On the Way is an acid trip, wondering through the vacant lot where the big top has just up sticks. Side A kicks off with the brooding title track, which grooves and moves like a a tune culled from the Suzuki-era Can catalogue, featuring an amalgam of distant horns and whistling oscillations. “Witches Multiplication Table,” a tune penned by producer extraordinaire Conny Plank, no less, keeps the creeps going. Had Count Dracula ever been chronicled in a film by Sergio Leone, I’d expect to hear the brief and enigmatic “Two Bass Shuffle,” as the accompanying score. Public Image Ltd.’s low-end agitator Jah Wobble assumes bass duties with Czukay on drums, not your Toccatta and Fugue in D Minor bullshit by a long shot. Side A is thematically consistent and it’s rather easy to lose yourself in Czukay’s grooves and off-kilter sonic motifs. The flip side, is arguably one of the greatest tunes of all time, the sultry “Ode to Perfume.” An 18 psych-kosmiche slow-burning come down. This is Sgt. Pepper’s, if the Beatles had come from Mars. Imbued with a near operatic sense of grandeur, yet ultimately retaining a sense of intrigue and risk, the track manages to be that rare feat, a work which is both sexy and artistically engrossing at once. Dark and spooky vibes permeate this release, but not in an unsettling way: it’s the end of the night, your head is swimming, and you want to fall asleep, but can’t. This record is playing square in the middle of that head space.