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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ash Ra Tempel: Schwingungen


ASH RA TEMPEL: SCHWINGUNGEN (1972)

1) Light And Darkness: Light (Look At Your Sun); 2) Light And Darkness: Darkness (Flowers Must Die); 3) Suche & Liebe.

As Klaus Schulze drifted off into a solo career that would very soon propel him to the top of the Electronica movement, Göttsching was left behind to re-scramble the band and see if the holy idea of Ash Ra was really larger than the sum of its most talented members. In order to prove this, he resorts to an expansion of the sound. Wolfgang Müller steps in to replace Schulze on percus­sion, but they also bring in Matthias Wehler to blow an alto saxophone in a few spaces, and, most importantly, we now have vocals, provided by a certain semi-nameless John L. — whose out-of-nowhereness and style of vocal delivery clearly owes a lot to the vocalists of Can (both Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki, notable for their ghost-like appearances).

I could not say that, in between the five of them, they were able to scale the same heights that the debut album had scaled. Schwingungen is less edgy, more rambling; it tries to do more, but ends up achieving less. Some of the ideas are downright silly in their derivativeness. The first part of 'Light And Darkness', for some reason, is bluesy, and with John L.'s mantra of "we are all one, we are all one" set to Göttsching's crackling solos, it ends up reminding me of... Eric Burdon — yes, his psychedelic babble with the new-look Animals circa 1967-68 ('All Is One', etc.). I like the blues, and I like Manuel as a soloist, but these six minutes are just way too retro-looking for 1972, when everyone was supposed to move forward; what were they thinking?

Things get better on the second part, which starts off as a sequence of electronic dreamscapes and then eventually becomes a part-free-jazz, part-cosmic-voyage jam, whose serious trippiness is, however, undermined by John L. Perhaps he was really taking his cues from the likes of Can's Su­zuki, but Damo was an actual madman, and whatever figures of speech and sound he engaged in on Can albums had the true potential to creep you out. This guy, however, just yells out or mut­ters stuff in the manner of a local boozer — not very interesting or atmospheric, and, after about five minutes, so tremendously annoying that you cannot help but start looking for that kara­oke voice-cancelling switch on whatever system you're using. Because the guitar/sax/drums/key­boards interaction is really compelling. Towards the end, in a sea of phasing and feedback, Gött­sching finally takes off amidst fumes and blazes, with the vocal guy almost burning out — but it takes a long way to get there, and it's only about two minutes of prime space rock ecstasy.

The first half of 'Suche & Liebe' is similar in style to 'Träummaschine' — very quiet, magical, and mystical, all chimes and faraway bells and Mellotrons, as if they shove you within an enchanted musical box and you just happen to find the entire Milky Way inside. Then, at around nine minu­tes into the experience, the quiet is broken with an ominous tribal drum sound, which, to be frank, sometimes feels as if Müller took his major cue from Ringo's sole drum solo in 'The End' and car­ried on from there (not that I mind). And then, after a few minutes of chaos, the band enters jam mode once again, this time taking on a solemn and stately Pink Floydian air — wave-breaking thrashing cymbals, dream-like guitars, deeply buried vocal harmonies (if they, too, belong to John L., I take away at least some of the things I have said, or left unsaid, about the guy), altogether, not tremendously original, but powerful and beautiful enough to just get swept away by the sound waves without a second thought.

So it does not all work — there are problems — but, clearly, the band had not stagnated, either, and the best parts of the record (and they include Side B in its entirety, after all) totally match Ash Ra Tempel in overall quality, hence, a clear thumbs up, and respectable recognition as one of the finest records that the year 1972 brought to Germany. Second only to the Scorpions' Lone­some Crow, of course, because who could withstand the sheer masculine brutality of early Teu­to­nic metal? Not a bunch of wimpy, artsy-fartsy German space-rockers, that's for sure.

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