Jonas Reinhardt

Powers of Audition (Kranky 2010)

Sometimes we are far too eager to dismiss the new simply because it too closely resembles what came before it. That’s a shame because it’s rewarding and occasionally eye-opening if we clear our minds of the canon and embrace an album for what it is, not the artists that laid the groundwork for it to come to fruition. Therefore, cleanse your mind of attachments to Cluster, Tangerine Dream, Moebius, Roedelius, Can and countless other geniuses who planted the seeds from which krautrock sprung and take a close listen to Jonas Reinhardt’s Powers of Audition and you can imagine a world in which it comfortably lies in the same stratosphere as his idols. Despite a few minor missteps, it possesses the same otherworldly grandeur as the classic albums that inspired them. Powers of Audition is absolutely oceanic and slowly unfurls itself into concentric coils of hazy mists of synthesizer drones and stoic melodies that straddle the line between comforting warmth and frigid isolation. My only complaint is that the band should have embraced the epic nature of these compositions and gave them room to breathe beyond the six or seven minute that limits their power and impact here. Next time, they should let their freak flag fly high and aim for the dawn instead of quitting at dusk because there is a primordial power to these compositions that deserve to be stretched to infinity.

Ironically, there is no Jonas Reinhardt in the band and it simply serves as a studious sounding moniker for this four-piece from San Francisco, California. Since Jesse Reiner’s synthesizer work is the focal point of Jonas Reinhardt’s ode to the electronic exploration of 70s Germany, it’s not surprising that he is the leader of this outfit. He has a real knack for layering sounds upon another to build an intricate foundation that allows the other players to let loose and inject the album with an almost driving and playful swagger that serves as an excellent counterpoint to the more cosmic and ethereal hazes that feel like enveloping smears of sound. In particular, the guitar playing of Phil Manley of Trans Am and drumming of Mi Ami’s Damon Palermo is what lends Powers of Audition a cosmic swagger as they take advantage of the opportunity to indulge their longstanding desire to indulge their inner desire to emulate Michael Karoli of Can and Mani Neumeier of Guru Guru. Their contributions shock the album out of its narcotic passivity and they rumble headfirst into almost punky crescendos that make the mellow moments all the more poignant. If you’re going to make an album full of slowly falling and drifting music, it helps to do so after the music has raced into the heavens first. Powers of Audition may lack the pedigree and historical context of its inspirations, but it is one of the few modern albums that pays tribute to the storied past of krautrock while standing on equal footing with what laid the groundwork for its creation.


May 18, 2010


Axes(Too Pure 2005)

Recorded in one take, Axes is one of those rare albums that sounds intricately crafted and obsessively planned, yet captures the wild-eyed abandon of a band willing to shred the map and forge new directions on the fly. Yes, it’s a contradictory statement, but Axes is a cooly composed, yet ragged recording that lets its frayed edges come to the forefront. It’s like a seamless, yet unlikely bridge between krautrock, prog, post-punk, Factory Records and Steve Reich’s Music for 18 musicians filtered through an accessible indie-rock aesthetic. Nothing else in Electrelane’s discography dips its toes into this territory and it is a bit of an anomaly when you step back and view their output as a whole. To their infinite credit, Axes is probably a fucking anomaly when compared to the last decade of music as a whole. Who else digested such overutilized ingredients and spit out a fresh recipe worthy of their idols? Electrelane did and I am reminded of their unheralded genius each time I place Axes on my turntable.

If you slapped me silly and demanded that I sum up Axes in a solitary word, I would have to choose “brooding” as its modifier since each instrument sounds like it’s being played in a bizarro version of the Cure’s “In a Forest” or New Order’s Movement minus the drummer who plays you like a snake charmer with repetitive, but deceptively complex percussion that suckers you into the abyss. Although its predecessor, The Power Out, played with many of the same themes explored here, there was a catharsis and release experienced during each triumphant chorus. Sentiments and feelings are bottled up tight on Axes as the band keeps emoting to a bare minimum as they explore what can be done with repetition, pop and punk when kept out of sun for days on end. I wouldn’t call Axes a depressing album, but it’s the first album I tend to reach for when dusk creeps over the horizon and you can smell the rain about to fall at any moment. It’s the aural equivalent of those moments before the shit hits the fan. It captures that jumbled rush of anticipation, regret and melancholy as you process those seconds before things are irrevocably changed forever, . Let’s cap this gusher and embrace the simple aesthetic of the album and say that it is an epic that never forgets the majesty to be found in simplicity.

Shogun Kunitoki-Tasankokaiku

September 22, 2008

Shogun Kunitoki

Tasankokaiku (Fonal 2006)

To many, the sounds of buzzing drones, endless riffs and repetitive chords may appear to be little more that a masturbatory exercise. To me, these are ecstatic moments that put me into a mental space where music becomes something spiritual and magical. I love a well-crafted pop song, driving punk scuzz and elegant classical composition that inspire me to reach for a snifter of brandy. Well, that last reference was a bit fancy for my cruddy mitts, but it does actually happen on occasion. However, there are certain albums that whisk you off into a nodding daze where you can only focus on each progression even though you know the next step is much like the one taken just moments earlier. Terry Riley, Aphex Twin, Seefeel, Morton Feldman, Sleep and others occupy this mental suite, but another has wormed its way into my heart, rendering the others sloppy seconds in my noggin.

Shogun Kunitoki are the ones who have occupied this treasure space in my heart for over year. Drawing from the krautrock masters, Harmonia, Neu, Cluster and Kraftwerk while paying slight tribute to minimalist composers Steve Reich and Charlemagne Palestine. The band crafts interlapping waves of organ playing with sudden swooshes of psychedelic effects that are tempered by a restrained, but focused rhythms that bring it all back into your general orbit. Some psychedelic albums inspire mental sludge while others conjure lofty, ethereal moods, but Tasankokaiku makes my mind feel like a tangled army  of cheap Christmas lights set ablaze during the last moments before Santa Claus rockets down my chimney. If this was released 30 years ago, you would all revere their very name, but they are ours at this very moment and deserve your adulation. This is the sound of repetition at its most audacious and complex. The layers upon layers of organ provide moments not unlike those when you first heard your first krautrock album and wondered where in the holy hell this music has been your entire life.


August 13, 2008


Lustwandel (Sky 1981)

Roedelius is one of the pivotal forces behind krautrock icons Cluster and collaborated with Brian Eno for a series of classic albums, but his solo work is a much more delicate piece of china compared to the robotic psych of his earlier works. Sometimes it reminds me a bit of Vangelis and I have images of me running in slow motion towards a hoagie and a bag of hot chips to the soundtrack of Chariots of Fire. However, a better comparison would be a more stoned Wendy Carlos during the more melancholy moments of the Clockwork Orange soundtrack. In reality, it is kind of its own bag of chips since his work transcends both Carlos and Vangelis’ entire catalogue of work.

I love this album because it is so tender and fragile. It is a masterpiece of small gestures and restraint. You could lump it into the new age scene if you didn’t listen closely enough. His piano playing is so evocative and bittersweet and always takes me back to blue moments in life, not in a depressing way, but a meditative one. That’s a quality I cannot apply to many albums in my life. It is so close to elevator music, but it devastates me each time. When you are lulled back into a regressive state, some oddball element like the pagan “Wicker man” vibe of “Wilkommen” pops up to shake you out of your reveries to examine this album more closely. I am still trying to figure this one out. It is so inoffensive, but possessed a power to whisk me off to other places in my mind.

Far East Family Band

Parallel World (1976)

A great album from these Japanese psych legends. The influence of Klaus Schulze (producer) is far stronger here than it was on Nipponjin (where he was basically re-recording older songs, anyway), as the blatant Pink Floyd worship turns to blatant krautrock worship. That’s not a bad thing because these guys are exceptionally skilled at both. Things start off with the ambient piece “Metempsychosis” that I’d probably believe was composed by Schulze himself. “Entering” follows and for its first half is more of the same before it really gets going about five minutes in, approaching something like an Ash Ra/Cosmic Jokers type climax with a lot of synth and some excellent drums. “Kokoro” is a return to their older sound with a focus on soaring guitar and pleasant vocals, but once again using a lot more synth this time. The title track is the big half hour epic to close out the album, a highlight to be sure. In the krautrock tradition, a tripped out bass line evolves out of the ambient wash, with the occasional appearance of ghostly voices and more synths. Just when you think the song’s over, it goes on for another fifteen minutes of twinkling keyboards, mellotron experiments, and the like. The influence of band member Kitaro is also notable here, who in short time would go on to create many, many albums of new age claptrap. I do hope my review doesn’t come across as being negative, because this is a tremendous album and definitely their most experimental work. While this is generally regarded as their finest album and a magnum opus of Japanese prog, I’m just not so big into the electronic noodling that makes up a good portion of the songs and generally prefer their earlier output. I’m in the minority with this opinion though, so don’t take my word for it.

A.R. & Machines

Echo (1972)

A double album of quiet, spaced krautrock from this band led by Achim Reichel. Comparable with the kind of thing Ash Ra Tempel was doing around the same time, but a bit more laid back. Klaus Schulze supposedly performs some vocals on this album, and it’s actually somewhat similar to the solo material he would release in the future. To be honest, it’s bit too much to take in one sitting if you aren’t in the right mood for it, but they’re great at what they do. Long tracks blending into each other, never really reaching a climax but rather shifting in and out of various psychedelic sounds and passages. Reichel’s guitar sound is great, and the occasional electronic flourish adds to the journey. The only skippable track is the final one, consisting mostly of vocal experiments that irritate more than anything else. That’s about it, a classic of krautrock that probably could have benefited considerably with some more editing (as is the case with a lot of krautrock). Julian Cope writes a more detailed review, if you’re interested.


June 26, 2008


s/t(Private Press 1970)

I guess you could label this as krautrock since the band is German and it falls under the category of psychedelia, but it bears little resemblance to Can, Faust, Cluster or any other influential groups of this era. Siloah’s self-titled debut shares more with the disjointed, communal folk of Comus’ First Utterance or Amon Duul’s Paradieswarts Duul than anything else. They do not share Comus’ disturbing lyrical bent, but these tracks capture the shambling, expansive qualities of both bands at their best.

Siloah’s debut doesn’t match up to the brilliance of the aforementioned albums, but it is an essential listen for anyone who has spent hours communing with these two classics. Much of it consists of stoned ethno-folk jams that meander in the best possible ways, but I always come back to this album for the 18 minute track “Aluminum Wind” which is epic in all the right places. It has a slow, dissonant buildup complete with distant percussion and flute until the singer starts warbling about Disneyland, Christmas trees, drinking your eyes and other surreal musings. It is whacked and incoherent, but it does tickle my fancy.

Walter Wegmüller

Tarot (1973)

Basically an earlier session from the Cosmic Jokers, this tripped out double album features a tarot concept and some big name krautrockers going wild with Swiss artist Walter Wegmüller talking over most the tracks. Manuel Göttsching, Klaus Schulze, and a host of other guys from Ash Ra Tempel and Wallenstein are in attendance. It never quite reaches the same depths of spaced bliss as Ash Ra Tempel (partially due to the short track lengths), but nothing does, so that’s alright. A gem from the Cosmic Couriers, if you’re into Ash Ra Tempel, Cosmic Jokers or Tangerine Dream and haven’t heard this one yet, you’ll definitely enjoy.

Slapp Happy

Acnalbasac Moon


Originally, I ordered this through the beloved and long-forgotten Ajax mail order catalogue and closely awaited its arrival. Since I was a college student engaged in the hedonistic activities associated with this focus group, I missed its arrival. I received a call from a UPS station that I believed to be 5 or 6 blocks away, so I trudged off in pursuit of my teutonic booty.

Little did my urban soul realize how far a 100 block to a 500 block can be in a rural setting. I walked and walked up a hill which then terraformed into a mountain. These five blocks were more like fifty, but my tired limbs prevailed and I triumphantly grasped my box and began the incline. I felt my right ankle become inflamed and then explode into an inferno, but I had a big ass box of records, so all was beautiful in my world, huh?

I open up my box and scrutinize my bounty. The Slapp Happy record seems like an hieroglyphic wonder. I play it and it sounds like some alien torch song collection. My roommates and I trudge through, but decide that it may be a grower. Time passes and with each successive play, Acnalbasac Moon grows brighter and brighter as one of the most upbeat and perverse albums we have heard. At the time, we bought it for the Faust connection, but we all kept buying more and more once we realized the beauty of Ms. Dagmar Krause’s voice.

How can I describe it? Well, imagine a cabaret dosed with LSD and the finest krautrock band nobly supporting one of the 70s most distinctive vocalists. My wife listens to nothing but Doris Day, June Christy and 50s and 60s pop, but adores this album. It is out there, but thoroughly accessible to all who hear it. My only fault was being too elitist to realize that beauty lies in all forms of music.