Various Artists - Kraut - Teil 4 Die Innovativen Jahre des Krautro [Bear Family Records - 2020]
Here we have the fourth in a series compilation from Bear Family Records, which revisits the sounds of my favourite genres of music, the Kosmische or Krautrock scene that flourished in West Germany during the 1960s and 70s. These compilations are great because they mix artists who became stars outside of Germany (Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel and Cluster) with those who never managed to break out and achieve worldwide success (Lokomotive Kreuzberg, Mythos and Dissidenten). This set concentrates on bands from West Berlin, and as such comprises of an interesting selection of artists who hail from the very frontline of the socio-political battle taking place in the 60s and 70s between capitalism and communism.
There is a strong selection of music on display here, much of it is not well known outside of its native country, however, don’t let that put you off as some of the less well-known groups provide some of the best music on this 2cd monster. The opening track of disc one, Karthago’s "Don’t Send Me Your Money, Send Me Your Heart" is a brilliant slice of hard rock/proto metal with a vocalist who sounds not unlike Free’s Paul Rodgers. The slightly more well-known Birth Control mine a similar hard rock/ proto-metal sound on the track "Gamma Ray", just taking the intensity up a notch with some heavy Uriah Heep style organ and some long-form progressive leanings. Os Mundi are up next with the track "Children’s Games" and once again they align themselves with the heavier, more progressive end of the rock spectrum, however, the addition of saxophone breaks and a mid-song breakdown that takes us into some rather fine Ian Anderson style flute playing sets this one apart from the previous tracks. Dissidenten are up next with their song "Germanistan" and provide something that is as un-German as it is possible to image, Latin infused funk-rock. Lush production, Latin style beats and flamenco style acoustic guitar add up to make something that stands out as incredibly unique, and once again provides us with a little insight into the barrier-breaking attitudes of Kosmische artists. Metropolis returns to the heavy progressive stylings of "Birth Control" and Karthago, with their track "Dreamweaver" albeit, at times, with an amazing jazz/funk groove. Lokomotive Kreuzberg’s "Nostalgia "is a constantly changing piece that incorporates a wealth of different musical styles including surf-pop! This is a real one-off and offers a good representation of the diverse nature of the music being produced in Germany during the period. "Halt Dich an Deiner Liebe Fest" by Ton Steine Scherben has an American singer/songwriter vibe to it, there is a definite Laurel Canyon influence to this piano-led piece of introspective sounding pop/rock. Mythos take things back up several notches with their brand of heavy psychedelic rock, there is a real King Crimson vibe at play here, and the band often received comparisons to both Genesis and Van Der Graaf Generator. This one, features some pretty wild phased effects, the band had obviously just discovered a new piece of kit and were determined to make good use of it. Emtidi are for me, one of the great underappreciated gems of the Kosmische scene, a two-piece that creates a wonderful mix of psychedelic and progressive elements. "Saat" is a lovely acoustic guitar-based track that would give the very best acid folk artists a run for their money. The outstanding Agitation Free are up next with "Malesch", a hypnotic prog masterpiece that twists and turns and elicits the desire to move in all who listen to it. The first disc closes with the epic Ash Ra Tempel and "Light and Darkness: Light – Look at Your Sun", a song that starts off quietly and builds into a tour de force of hard psychedelic rock. It’s a wonderful way to bring the first disc to a close.
Disc two only features six tracks, but three of them run at around twenty minutes each. The opener is one of the most recognisable tracks and artists on this compilation, the inimitable Tangerine Dream, and their classic Phaedra, all seventeen and a half minutes of one of the finest pieces of ambient electronica ever released, and the benchmark for pretty much everything that followed within the ambient sphere. This is followed by Klaus Schulze and the epic "Ways of Change", another huge slice of electronic genius that sits alongside those classic Tangerine Dream albums as one of the most innovative pieces of music on the burgeoning electronic scene. Cluster are up next and the track "Rote Riki" highlights the band’s weird off-kilter sound perfectly, always difficult to pigeonhole Cluster remain one of the most interesting and diverse bands of the Kosmische scene. Harmonia are up next with "Walky Talky", mixing classic elements of Kosmische (hypnotic beats, and weird electronics) with an almost pop-like groove. A perfect example of later period Kosmische. That is followed by Hans-Joachim Roedelius and his track "Regenmacher" that mixes tribal drum beats and native instrumentation with electronica, something that would become popular during the 80s and the 90s through the likes of Ozric Tentacles. The album closer comes courtesy of Human Being and an edited version of the massive "Human Being 1", the edit itself runs at 17.25 and works as some sort of precursor to the entire drone movement.
I was going to describe Kraut Teil 4 as a great snapshot of the West Berlin Kosmische scene but as this 2 CD set runs at well over two hours it feels difficult to describe it as such, what it is, is a wonderful compilation that covers the breadth of interesting musical ideas that went into what we call Kosmische or Krautrock. The album really brings home the diversity and range involved in what we call Kosmische music as well as helping to define its place as one of the most innovative musical genres of all time. The choice of material is excellent and the set works as a great introduction to the scene as well as affording those with a little more knowledge of the scene, the chance to brush up on that knowledge. The album comes beautifully packaged in a foldout digipak with a huge booklet, which sadly for me is entirely written in German (I was taught French at school) although it looks pretty comprehensive and features some amazing artwork. Overall, this is a pretty impressive package that really encapsulates what has drawn people like me to the Kosmische music scene over the years. Darren Charles