By Keith Henderson
Speaker\Cranker - "Speaker\Cranker"
Agitation Free - "River of Return"
From Aural Innovations #8 (October 1999)
Well, to start, last time I complained about the lack of official Kraan CDs available on the marketplace. Since then, I've come across their official website (at http://www.danbbs.dk/~m-bohn/kraan/), and there they say, "We proudly announce that some Kraan CD's in the near future will be available through this website. They will not be bootlegs, but recordings approved and checked by Peter Wolbrandt. First one will be: 'Kraan - Live in Copenhagen 1979' (2CD). Never released before." Well, how 'bout that for results! Let's just hope this eventually leads to the early 70's studio works! I also learned that Peter has some other 'official bootleg' CDs at his own site (http://www.wolbrandt.de/), including "Live in Switzerland 1974" (transferred to CD from an audience tape found in California).
Well, here's a switch. The San Francisco-based kraut-style wonders Mushroom will touring be in Germany and Switzerland in November. Right back at ya'! Also, several of the 'Shrooms are continuing their collaboration with Gong's Daevid Allen as the University of Errors, and we know that their second *and* third CDs are already underway! One thing about psych-improv... it develops quickly!! Anyway, here are the Mushroom dates for those on the continent:
Nov. 17 Illmenau - BC Club, Nov. 18 Heilbronn - Mobilat (TBC), Nov. 19 Winterthur, Switz. - Gaswerk, Nov. 20 Thun, Switz. - Cafe Mokka, Nov. 21 Biel, Switz. - Coupole, Nov. 22 München - Club 2, Nov. 23 Marburg - Cafe Trauma, Nov. 24 Frankfurt - Dreikönigskeller, Nov. 25 Hildesheim - Kulturfabrik Löseke, Nov. 26 Lübeck - Treibsand, Nov. 27 Bramsche - Webschule, Nov. 28 Schweinfurt - Stadtbahnhof.
By the time you read this, Faust will have already passed through the states on their mini-tour supporting their excellent 1999 studio effort 'Ravvivando.' AI will be there to catch the Pittsburgh show, and we'll tell you all about it in the next K.K. With luck, next year will bring the first-ever performances by Agitation Free here in the states. We here at AI are gearing up to help make this become a reality, and if you would like to help launch a 'grass roots' effort to get things arranged, by all means let us know (through any means). One way is to join the mailing list we've set up for communication purposes, at http://www.onelist.com/ (search for 'agfree').
Amon Düül II's Chris Karrer and John Weinzierl, and Faust's Jean-Hervé Peron have banded together for some shows apparently. I know of an EP called 'The Cha Cy' that these folks have been working on, so I gather that these tracks will be featured. Here are two dates that I've been made aware of:
Dec. 17 - Montélimar, France - Theatre
Dec. 18 - Bresse-sur-Grosne, France - A l'Ouest de la Grosne
Note also that Chris Karrer has recently released a solo album on United One Records entitled 'Grandezza Mora,' a completely solo acoustic album, on which he plays the flamenco guitar, oud and rubab.
More bits... Longtime Kraftwerk drummer Wolfgang Fluer has written an autobiography about his time with the band, called 'Kraftwerk - Ich war ein Roboter' ('Kraftwerk - I Was a Robot'). Apparently, it's not particularly flattering towards Ralf and Florian.... ah, one of those Hollywood tell-alls! Anyway, more info on this book and some reviews (in German) can be found at: http://www.amazon.de. And just so you know... Can's double CD of live tracks recorded between 1971 and 1977 (previously only available as part of the limited edition Can Box) was released on September 20 by Mute Records. And finally, those on-line might consider subscribing to the 'isi' krautrock mailing list. Some of the newsy items here in the Korner are derived from posts I see on 'isi.' To subscribe, send the phrase "subscribe isi" without quotes in a message body to email@example.com. The list could use some new blood.
Onto the reviews...
Speaker\Cranker - "Speaker\Cranker"
(Holophon 1999, HOCD 001)
I mentioned this new entity in the last Korner, and said you'd be hearing more about them soon. Luckily, their debut CD came out on schedule, and I couldn't be happier. These six Clevelanders have brought forth some extremely exciting music in this hour-long gem. Speaker\Cranker stick pretty closely to the extended kraut-style instrumental jams, so they don't depart too much from what Mushroom is doing out west or what The Spacious Mind started out with a few years back. But certainly, each of these improv artists *have* to provide some different ideas and voices. It's like micro-brewed pale ales, you just have to try them all.
Trying to give you a rundown of everything the Crankers try out on this album would take way too much space. But basically, the music can be cordoned off into the hypno-rhythm aspect (generally bass and drums) and then the free-flowing lead voices. As in Neu!, the drummer is a particularly important ingredient in the stew, and here Scott Pickering really stands out. In fact, his playing is far more involved and busy than Klaus Dinger ever attempted, and yet Pickering still plays with that 'looping' feel that (along with Jim Donadio's bass) lays the rolling foundation for the others. These include dual guitarists Dave Swanson and Keith Pickering, neither of whom seem to fit into divisible roles as 'lead' and 'rhythm.' More often than not, the two are simultaneously wandering off into their own thing, whether that be slide work, long sustain, heavy echo, light and nimble licks, probably some e-bow too, etc. And then of course, this is all topped off by the synth work of Jim Jones (he of Pere Ubu fame) and the barrage of sonic samples, various tape-effects and weird oscillator noises that Dave Cintron adds. In the end, you could argue either that the album features 'no solos' or 'nothing but solos' and both would be right on. It's a matter of perspective.
"Mar Luna" and "Stick Shift Effigy," both near the album's outset are probably the strongest works on the album, though it's hard to find a weak spot. "Baby Please Go Home" is the one place where they break form and try out a rhythmless experimental piece, á la Faust. The dialtone sounds placed about a half-step apart cause you a bit of queasiness, but it's an effect that works. "Dome Piece," the 27-minute finale is quite a symphony in itself, and features a section I really like where a particular guitar riff is constructed and then dismantled in small parts, such that the piece takes on the feel of a 'theme and variation' composition. Later on, I seem to pick out the guitar chords from Hawkwind's "You Know You're Only Dreaming" amongst the humming synths and pulsating rhythm, but I'm sure that's my imagination at work.
If you're bothering to read this section of AI, you'll know by now that this is something you should really hear. It doesn't take long to catch onto what Speaker\Cranker does... when I caught their performance supporting Gong, I was a huge fan just fifteen minutes into their set. Before you read this, I will have the good fortune of seeing them again with Bevis Frond. So, one more rising star in the ever-expanding krautrock renaissance - what about calling it Neu!-wave? Too silly? Buy Speaker\Cranker on-line at: http://www.bentcrayon.com, and hear their soundfiles at http://home.earthlink.net/~mcjimmyd/index.html
Agitation Free - "River of Return"
(BSC Music/Prudence 1999, 398.6552.2)
Well here it is, 25 years in the making, so to speak. I've had quite a bit of time to let this reunion work soak in, and I'm glad to say that it wasn't at all a pointless idea. Despite some familiar tendencies and recognizable patterns, 'River of Return' is surprisingly different from the Agitation Free of the early 70's. And quite original in and of itself. The four main instrumentalists (Lütjens, Ulbrich, Günther, and Rausch) that left off in 1974 are all back, now with notable guests such as Johannes 'Alto' Pappert (of Kraan) on sax and guitarist/producer 'Potsch' Potschka (of Spliff, Nina Hagen).
There's lots to talk about in describing this album.... all sorts of different sounds and styles. The title track is a winner, building from a single 'looping' guitar lick that reminds me of something that their fellow Berliner Manuel Göttsching might use. Here, like in many places, the playing style really backs off from any complexity, which allows each individual statement to draw in more of the listener's attention. It's the kind of modus operandi that's allowed Steven Wilson to develop such a big following. '2 part 2' is an upbeat 'proggy' tune that really turns it up a notch in the second half, where Gustl Lütjens puts forth his most inspired soloing. Later in the album, two tunes penned by Lüül Ulbrich ("The Obscure Carousel" and "Nomads") recall the old style most vividly, and hence are my favorites. On the former, another 'guitar loop' is countered by 'down and dirty' licks from Lütjens and edginess all around, even in Pappert's sax. The bagpipe solo (credited to guest Koma) adds more peculiar nasal qualities. Outstanding. "Nomads" builds from tribal percussion and light guitar noodling into a stellar free-form psychy jam that you easily get 'lost' in. 100% pure prime spacerock, this one.
One other thing that's familiar from the early days (remember Looping IV?) are the two lengthy minimalist pieces they offer ("Susie Sells Seashells at the Seashore" and "177 Spectacular Sunrises"). It's often hard to get terribly excited about this sort of music, but I really found they worked well sandwiched around the 'rock' tracks. They're ambient and dreamy with 'ocean' sounds and such, but they really do stay clear of the cheesier 'new age' characteristics. But wait... I still haven't gotten to the really surprising tracks on the album yet! "Fame's Mood" and the bonus track "Keep On" would best be described using the term 'honky-tonk' I suspect, or at least 'country blues.' Neither of these pieces are very long, so this sound hardly dominates the album. And it's up to the particular listener to decide whether these excursions demonstrate versatility or are simply out-of-place. Finally, the lone remaining track, "Das Kleine Uhrwerk," sounds like the rest of the album all at once... so it's pretty weird, eh? All four are credited on the writing, go figure!
The best thing about "River of Return" (other than it leading to the possibility of touring!) is that the four obviously have some new ideas they want to pursue. Anyway, I don't think they're 'cashing' in on the krautrock bandwagon (as if that would make anyone rich). And yet, rather than a total departure, they've thrown in a few recognizable tidbits that the old-time fans can hang onto and thus follow their lead. It's effectively built the bridge between the old and the new... I'm more anxious now to hear the next effort, especially since Michael Hönig promises to appear in the studio for that recording. Distributed by BSC Music; Hauserweg 25, D-82541; Münsing, Germany. Visit the very detailed Agitation Free homepage at: http://www.agitation-free.de.