Amon Düül II – Wolf City (1972)

AmonDuulII_WolfCity3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Amon Düül II was a rather weird-ass group from Germany that I initially heard and investigated back in the mid-’70s, about the time I started high school and, from one excellent “underground” Chicago radio station, gained exposure to “Krautrock” and the often-intriguing bands that were considered part of the genre.

Various Krautrock groups promoted by that radio station caught my undivided attention, but I also remember not being too enthusiastic about this particular band (again, too weird-ass for me, too psychedelic and wildly experimental with strange, strange, STRANGE vocals—plus, at import prices, the albums were way too expensive for me to simply grab on a whim from my local record store).

But in the past decade or two I’ve slowly grown to appreciate the group and its complete and utter strangeness and adventurous nature. Granted, Amon Düül II will never be one of my favorite bands by any stretch of the imagination, but some of the group’s earliest efforts, such as Wolf City—with spacey and tripping tunes like “Sleepwalker’s Timeless Bridge,” “Surrounded By The Stars,” “Jail-House-Frog,” “Wie Der Wind Am Ende Einer Strasse,” and the hypnotic, almost Brian Eno-esque title track—are nevertheless enjoyable whenever I find myself in a “weird-ass” mood…like today. 🙂

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Kraan – Wiederhören (1977)

Kraan_Wiederhören4 out of 5 Stars!

A wildly terrific German band that started in the ’70s and released a slew of funky, skillful, and adventurous Jazz-inspired Prog-Rock albums in its first decade of existence. Indeed, some of the band’s material reminds me of the Canterbury Prog-Rock scene in Britain…only sinfully manic, and on some damned-good acid.

Any of the group’s ’70s albums—including Wiederhören, the band’s fifth release—are highly recommended for lovers of the genres of Progressive Rock, Krautrock, Jazz-Fusion or Jazz-Rock. Seriously, the musicianship on display here (from the guitars and keys, to the sax, to the rhythm section) is unequivocally awesome…especially jaw-dropping on the tracks “Vollgas Ahoi,” “Let’s Take a Ride,” “Rund um die Uhr,” and “Rendezvous in Blue.”

The only area where Kraan “lacked” as a group (and where I lowered the rating by half a star) was in the vocal department, but since much of the band’s material is instrumental, and the vocals are “passable” overall, they are hardly a huge deterrent when it comes to savoring the outstanding musicianship and creativity on display.

And please hold the nasty comments and hate mail regarding my age, since I already know I’m going to sound like an “old fogey” by saying the following: “Today’s newfangled whippersnapper bands just don’t make music like this anymore…”  🙂

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Janus – Gravedigger (1972)

Janus_Gravedigger4 out of 5 Stars!

Music-loving kids of today don’t have a bloody clue how good they’ve actually got it, do they? Here’s why I say that…

It continues to astound me how a seemingly endless stream of above-average “old” albums by “old” obscure bands of which I’d never known existed keep popping up in my “middle/olden years” which, in a perfect world, I should have discovered way back in my youth but didn’t. Certainly this has everything to do with the situation back in the “olden days” before the mighty Internet existed. Dear heavens, remember those times when only local (lame) radio and (lame) television stations, along with a few assorted (mostly lame) magazines (aside from Circus and few others) provided the sole sources in discovering new music, and to a lesser extent, the meager selections in stock at the small local record store and word of mouth? For those of us in America (and especially in the Midwest), this is especially true of European (non-UK) bands whose albums were always tucked away in the high-priced yet always-intriguing “Import Section” at the record store, when a teenager had no available cash to splurge (experiment) on an album that looked so damned fascinating but wasn’t available to “test listen.” Hell, of course, then I would rather spend my meager cash on the heavily advertised albums from world-renowned groups such as Uriah Heep or Deep Purple or Yes or Black Sabbath instead of “chancing” a release (except sparingly) by seemingly unheard of German bands such as Jane or Lucifer’s Friend or Guru Guru or Scorpions. This is the area in which the upcoming Internet became (undoubtedly) the “holy grail of discovery” in the lives of die-hard music lovers like myself. So I repeat my earlier question—music-loving kids of today don’t have a bloody clue how good they’ve actually got it, do they? Probably not!

Anyway, this is the reason I write many reviews for older (ie. seemingly ancient) albums and bands, since for me, many are truly brand new discoveries, the actual year of actual release/existence be damned. Therefore, despite this album being released more than four decades ago, it is essentially a new release in my eyes, and Janus is, for all intents and purposes, a brand new band.

I stumbled upon them when digging for more information on Jane (a band I did actually unearth way back in the 1970s). So due to its similar name, and also being from Germany, Janus kept popping up in my various “Jane-related” searches. Since I also kept seeing words and phrases such as “great” and “wonderful” and “undiscovered gem” and “semi-progressive Krautrock” (a genre of which I am quite fond) when describing the debut Janus album, I had placed it on my “wish list” and (thankfully) located a copy.

Not only have I played the five-track album repeatedly since I snagged a copy, but have grown quite fond of it. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to label this mainly guitar-oriented album (with some piano back-up) as simply Progressive Rock (which oddly seems the sole or primary genre listed at most music-related websites when it comes to this release), I would certainly say that Prog-Rock is a secondary genre. Apart from that, I would classify this album as being Hard Rock with abundant Psychedelic-Rock influences.

In many ways, especially due to the “unaccented” lead vocals and almost blues-foundation to some songs (such as on the three shorter tracks “Whatcha Trying To Do?” and “Bubbles” and “I Wanna Scream”—the latter almost a template for a Thin Lizzy song) and the overall guitar tones the band employs throughout the album, Janus has (for the era) more of a “Brit-band” sound, occasionally bringing to mind groups such as Ten Years After, Beck, Bogart & Appice, Cream, Led Zeppelin, etc.

Yet the heavier-hitting Psych elements make all the difference in the world (as on the killer, nearly nine-minute, opening song “Red Sun” with its apparent “I Can See for Miles” influence by The Who, and the side-long, twenty-one-minute “Gravedigger” with its often Mellotron-dreamy, acoustic-based “Moody Blues/King Crimson” feel), bringing shades of Jane, Guru Guru, Grobschnitt, etc. into the overall mixture of influences, and offering that unique Krautrock flair. Indeed, these lengthier aforementioned tracks are reason enough to investigate this album, since they’re the ones that offer the perfect blending of the “Hard Rock/Psych-Rock/Progressive Rock/Krautrock” genres and make this album quite special.

Hell, these two tracks alone make me wish I’d discovered this album upon its release back in 1972, then maybe my friends and I would have rocked out (and “spaced out” with a particular weed I cannot name) to more than just the albums the highly influential record companies and “lame” radio stations of the era declared were the “best of the best.” Now I just need to hunt down a few of this band’s subsequent albums (released decades later themselves) to see if Janus eventually lived up to the potential it displayed on its debut.

Yes, the music-loving kids of today are so damned lucky to have something called the Internet, because even they can easily discover an album such as Gravedigger more than forty years after its release. Damn, in this respect, how I envy them…

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Guru Guru – An Overview

GuruGuruAlbums In My Collection

– Dance Of The Flames
– Don’t Call Us, We Call You
– Guru Guru 5
– Hinten
– Kanguru
– Mani In Germani
– Tango Fango
– UFO

An Overview

I became aware of this Krautrock band back in 1974 when one FM station in Chicago used to have a 2-3 hour show one night per week called “Sounds From Across The Big Swamp.” The station broke from its normal hard rock format to feature obscure or underground bands from, despite the name of the show, both Europe and America. To me, that show was PURE GOLD and I listened religiously each week! I heard some amazing material from early Gentle Giant, Scorpions, Judas Priest, Amon Düül II, Epitaph, Lucifer’s Friend, Roxy Music, Birth Control, Jane, etc. And one of the odder bands to get featured was Guru Guru.

Then, as a teenager, money was of course scarce, and although I found many albums by all these amazing bands at my local record store, they were mostly shelved in the “Import” section, meaning prices were outrageous, well beyond my means. Therefore, Guru Guru’s releases were not something I would be able to grab anytime soon, to my complete dissatisfaction. But I held the band’s name in memory for many decades until something called the Internet came into my life as an adult and I was able to finally rediscover some of the music I had been craving since youth.

When thinking of Guru Guru again, I located the album I distinctly remembered from those days on that radio show, 1974’s Dance Of The Flames. I was able to download it and, damn it, the album was just as bizarre as I remembered. Since then, I’ve located other Guru Guru albums and have been able to delve into their history. And let me tell you, this is one weird-ass band.

Call them Prog-Rock, Krautrock, Psychedelic Rock, “Jam Band” Rock, or whatever, they were quite bizarre. Some of the material is hit or miss (“garage band/improvisational” type of stuff in the band’s earliest days), but for the most part, they are enjoyable.

Their earliest releases were almost free-form Psychedelic jam sessions, as if someone plopped them into a studio and said, “Okay, guys, fool around with whatever the hell idea strikes you.” Whereas other releases have more “actual” song-oriented tracks (since I like music better when it has some structure, these are the albums I generally prefer, although the “jammy” album Känguru is also one of my favorites by Guru Guru).

So, depending on your musical preferences or mood, you may enjoy their material or be disappointed by it. Either way, you’re sure to find some goofy (mostly instrumental) material when investigating them.

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Birth Control – An Overview

BirthControl

Albums In My Collection

– Backdoor Possibilities
– Birth Control
– Count On Dracula
– Deal Done At Night
– Getting There
– Hoodoo Man
– Increase
– Operation
– Plastic People
– Rebirth
– Titanic
– Two Worlds

An Overview

Anytime a band has released material for as many years as Birth Control (formed in Germany back in 1968) one would expect a great deal of inconsistency in its sound/style, especially when countless personnel changes within the band occur and music trends change globally. Therefore, for fans of Prog-Rock unfamiliar with this band, be prepared when delving into its vast catalogue that the quality and material vary greatly from decade to decade.

For me, most of the band’s early releases, its “classic/glory period”—especially the albums Operation (1971), Hoodoo Man (1972), Plastic People (1975), Backdoor Possibilities (1976), and Increase (1977)—were great slices of Heavy Prog-Rock. In those days, the band had a profound Deep Purple/Bloodrock/Lucifer’s Friend type of sound, with some funky rhythms and touches of jazz and even classical music thrown in, giving Birth Control a style all its own. And with his powerful voice, singer Bernd Noske (also the drummer) gave the band an instantly recognizable sound. Also, on my favorite Birth Control release (Backdoor Possibilities), the band went one step forward in its experimentation by incorporating some Gentle Giant influences into several tracks. Outstanding material overall.

After this classic period, however, the band (facing drastic changes in the music industry) attempted to keep itself relevant by changing its sound to more of a straight-forward AOR type of band and actually toying with—gulp—disco rhythms. Yes, you read that correctly, disco rhythms! Gag. Although, mind you, the four studio albums released from 1978-1982 weren’t completely horrible, just rather lackluster and, with that disco flirtation in the late 70s, a bit too much for me to bear. I quickly lost interest in the band during this period.

But then, the band disappeared for more than a decade, only to reemerge in 1995 with a heavy album once again. And with singer/drummer Bernd Noske still at the helm. Up through its final album in 2003, Birth Control sounded rejuvenated with an updated organ-dominated, Deep Purple-influenced, Heavy-Prog sound. And the band’s last four releases were better than average. Still, nothing quite beats the “classic/glory period” as described above, which I wholeheartedly encourage fans of Heavy-Prog to investigate.

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Ash Ra Tempel – Ash Ra Tempel (1971)

AshRaTempel_12 out of 5 Stars!

Although this album is rather highly rated at various music websites, and has received worldwide praise, I find it difficult to see why. Sure, there are some decent moments of pleasantness, but it seems barely more than some jamming background music, nothing that truly grabs me and convinces me to seek out more music by this band. The two long tracks are passable free-form Psychedelic Rock/Space Rock/Krautrock music, but definitely nothing to get me overly excited. I’ve heard bands tooling around in their garages that sounded much better and tighter and…interesting.

Sorry, but I had hoped for something more considering the high ratings this album typically receives…