In the wake of The Liminal’s recent enthusiastic appraisal of the 40th Anniversary reissue of Can’s Tago Mago, we thought it would be a good idea to list the best krautrock albums ever released.
Note: for the sake of giving as wide a picture as possible of the manifold incarnations of German music in the krautrock period, I’ve limited myself to one album per band/artist. A bit unfair, as Ash Ra Tempel’s Schwingungen and Can’s Monster Movie could easily sit in the top 20 of all krautrock, but all I can say is dig them out as well. There are so many joys to be found in the music of the time.
1. Can – Tago Mago (1971)
I could hardly choose another really, could I? Everything I wrote about the album’s reissue is true, and Tago Mago stands as an emblem of what can be achieved when you mix rock with the avant-garde. Tago Mago stands with White Light/White Heat, Fun House, Metal Box, Forever Changes and On the Beach as one of the truly great rock statements.
2. Amon Düül II – Yeti (1970)
While Can represented the height of the ‘intellectual’ school of krautrock, the second incarnation of Munich’s Amon Düül scaled the summit of German psychedelic rock. Indebted to the American West Coast’s acid-drenched guitars and communal hippiedom, Amon Düül managed to transcend these influences through their fascination with ancient European rituals and Bergman-esque mystery. Some of the heaviest psych grooves ever laid to wax can be found on Yeti.
3. Sand – Golem (1974)
It didn’t take me long to plump for an obscurity, but luckily Golem was reissued in 2010, showcasing its bizarre, frightening and outlandish psychedelic folk for all to hear. Dense synths twist and swirl around fuzzy acoustic guitars while a dark and sinister singer spins haunting tales of dark woods and windswept moors. The road that leads to Current 93 starts here.
4. Neu! – Neu! (1972)
Wonder drummer Klaus Dinger and his guitar-wizard compadre Michael Rother laid down the ground rules for both punk and post-punk on their minimal, driving debut, having cut their teeth in the earliest incarnations of Kraftwerk. The pair invented a style all of their own, ‘motorik’, defined by Dinger’s insistent percussion and the seething guitar solos of Rother.
5. Ash Ra Tempel – Ash Ra Tempel (1971)
The definition of a power trio, the first incarnation of Ash Ra Tempel featured none other than future synth wizard Klaus Schulze on drums, and his octopus-like pounding of the skins on opener “Amboss” is like no other in rock music. Indeed, when it came to percussion, the Germans seemed to combine the powerful and the elegant in ways beyond the imaginations of their Anglo-American counterparts. Throw in Hartmut Enke’s elastic bass and the guitar wizardry of Manuel Göttsching, then “Amboss”, an entire side of vinyl in length, becomes the epitome of psychedelic rock. The reverse, “Traummaschine”, is a lengthy exploration of ambient textures, paving the way for how this band, and Schulze in particular, would evolve.
6. Cluster – Cluster 71 (1971)
Cluster 71 is the size of a planet. The fact that no synths were involved in its creation makes only more remarkable as Berlin duo Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius create titanic walls of fuzzy, apocalyptic drone using treated guitar, organ and keyboards. Music to swallow your entire being whole.
7. Faust with Tony Conrad – Outside the Dream Syndicate (1973)
As its title suggests, this album sits on the fringes of krautrock, such is the domination of the American minimal violinist and his measured drones. But the spine of Faust (Rudolf Sosna on keyboards, Jean-Hervé Peron on bass and ‘Zappi’ Diermaier on drums) bring their own intense metronomic edge to this uniquely brilliant collaboration, cementing it in krautrock folklore.
8. Klaus Schulze – Irrlicht (1972)
Few figures hover over the history of modern German pop/rock music the way the erstwhile Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream drummer/keyboardist does. His solo debut is a masterpiece of doom-laden folk drone, as he plays his fuzzed-out keyboard against a recording of a ghostly choir to spine-chilling effect.
9. Tangerine Dream – Electronic Meditation (1970)
As if to illustrate my above point, Schulze crops up here on TD’s oft-overlooked debut, which also features the late, great Conrad Schnitzler on cello, violin and guitar. With Schulze anchoring the music with his spidery percussion, and Schnitzler adding weird flourishes on strings, TD main man Edgar Froese has total freedom to wrench metallic, acid-tinged solos from his guitar, coming on like Jimi Hendrix via Stockhausen. TD would gain greater fame as ambient pioneers, but Electronic Meditation is their most boundary-pushing statement.
10. German Oak – German Oak (1972)
Another great obscurity of the age was this self-titled debut from Dusseldorf-based quintet German Oak. Unafraid to stare into the heart of Germany’s hideous past, German Oak is a furious mix of industrial-style rock and ominous atmospheres. The band’s bleak approach was probably too much even for Germany’s oddball hippies, but this is an album worth tracking down.
11. Faust – Faust IV (1973)
Oddly, of all the German bands to cross the channel and get signed to an English label, it befell experimentalists Faust, famous for recording cement mixers and the like and fitting the resulting clamour into their edgy, unpredictable proto-punk grooves. Signed to Richard Branson’s nascent Virgin records, they delivered their most accessible album yet, one that nonetheless contained enough moments of out-there avant-rock to ensure British audiences of the time were mostly bemused and nonplussed.
12. Harmonia – Deluxe (1975)
When Roedelius and Moebius of Cluster joined forces with ex-Neu! guitarist Michael Rother, the results were bound to be special, an odd mixture of angular rock guitar riffs and spacey ambience. On their second album, Deluxe, they added drums to the mix, the results a strange marriage between edgy ‘motorik’ and cheerful synth-pop. It’s really no wonder Brian Eno took note and promptly headed to Germany to join the band.
13. Popol Vuh – In den Gärten Pharaos (1971)
Many prefer Florian Fricke’s radical splicing of Eastern and Western religious music on Hosianna Mantra, but while that album offers myriad pleasures, I will always prefer to be sucked into the cosmic, drifting atmospheres and heady electronic tones of In den Gärten Pharaos.
14. A.R. & Machines – Echo (1972)
Front-man Achim Reichel would become hugely famous in the latter half of the decade as something of a mainstream pop singer, and for that reason this impeccable sophomore album remains unissued on CD. A real shame, because the pulsating psych-rock grooves and almost prog-like flights of fancy make it one of the most ambitious and unusual records of the time.
15. Guru Guru – UFO (1970)
The birth of stoner rock? Guru Guru were lead by insane singing drummer Mani Neumeier and were quite possibly the heaviest of all the German bands of the time, with Ax Genrich unleashing wave after wave of super-saturated guitar mess over a thunderous, post-free-jazz rhythm earthquake supplied by Neumaier and bassist Uli Trepte. The title of the first track is “Stone In”, which says all you need to know really.
16. Yatha Sidhra – A Meditation Mass (1974)
I said it in my previous piece: the Germans easily outstripped the Brits and Americans when it came to incorporating the influence of Eastern music into rock. And none did it better than this short-lived combo. A Meditation Mass is laid-back and pastoral, with buzzing sitars and lofty flutes adding to an atmosphere of extreme cosmic bliss. Rare and wonderful.
17. Agitation Free – 2nd (1973)
Agitation Free veered closer to prog-rock than most German bands, their mesmeric interplay highlighting the smooth guitar-playing of Lutz Ulbrich and the supple drumming of Burghard Rausch. Where their debut, Malesch, was inspired by a trip to North Africa, 2nd explores more esoteric climes, with several moments of instrumental gold.
18. Sergius Golowin – Lord Krishna Von Goloka (1973)
One of the most singular adventures in krautrock history was the launch of Ralf-Ulrich Kaiser’s Kosmische Musik label, bringing together members of Ash Ra Tempel, Witthuser & Westrupp and Wallenstein to provide the pastoral folk backing on this oddball of an album. As his musicians lay down their pristine tapestry, Swiss-Czech poet/politician Golowin intones weird psych poetry that takes in Eastern religions and Germanic mythology.
19. La Düsseldorf – La Düsseldorf (1976)
Having paved the way for punk’s slobbered snarl with “Hero” on Neu! 75, Klaus Dinger brought in bubbling synth melodies and loping funk rhythms for his next project, La Düsseldorf. A hymn to his home city, this self-titled debut is infectious and fun, its smoother edges looking beyond punk and into new wave.
20. Kluster – Klopfzeichen (1970)
Probably the most extreme album on this list, Klopfzeichen sees the future Cluster duo of Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius team up with Conrad Schnitzler to create two mighty, unwieldy slabs of musique concrete, all found sounds, loops, dramatic spoken word lyrics, dense electronics and haunting noise effects. Industrial music was born here.
You can also read this, with videos, here: http://www.theliminal.co.uk/2012/01/the-40-year-sturm-und-drang-2-a-krautrock-chart/