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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Amon Düül II: Phallus Dei


1) Kanaan; 2) Dem Guten, Schonen, Wahren; 3) Luzifers Ghilom; 4) Henriette Krotenschwanz; 5) Phallus Dei.

While the original Amon Düül busied themselves with one-way communication with anonymous spirits, mostly via unharnessed drum banging and unrehearsed screaming, a rebellious subset of the commune decided that, perhaps, the spirits would be more responsive if spoken to with real music — weird music, for sure, but one that would at least be more firmly grounded in the human musical experience, collec­tively gained over the past millennium.

One thing in common between early Amon Düül II and their brethren is that the new group, too, started out as an improvisational outfit, burying themselves in heavy jamming and putting on re­cord those particular cuts that seemed to capture the largest concentration of inspiration. Not that, in 1969, this was any big news for the jazz idiom, but for the «rock» one the approach was still novel — even the Grateful Dead preferred not to mix their live and studio images too heavily. Phallus Dei, on the other hand, was essentially a studio recreation of the band's live set, slightly doctored with special effects and overbuds during the final stage.

In 1969, this set of jams must have sounded as wild as the album title, which hardly requires translation. Today, both the title and the music seem far more tame — in fact, the music is down­right accessible. The band consciously avoids overtly tricky time signatures, key changes every five seconds, or flashy, scale-jumping soloing; it simply keeps on playing, and the only truly bi­zar­re trademark are the vocals — alternately sung by guitarist Chris Karrer or, uh, tambourinist Renate Knaup, the only girl in the band. Bizarre, because the former had an occasional penchant for the Mickey Mouse thing, and the latter keeps veering towards opera vibrato; together, they sure make a pretty pair.

Although it is the second side of the record that is completely dedicated to a twenty-minute suite, it is actually the first one that sounds the craziest — dark psychedelic cosmic rock, of that parti­cular variety on which the instruments do not seem to be working towards a collective purpose, but play the part of randomly functioning objects speeding past your observation point in outer space. Two or more guitars drone, buzz, or jangle with enough hard-rock power to keep the liste­ner from being bored by too much wimpiness (a typical failure for the Grateful Dead) and with enough spaced-out sound effects to remind the listener that this is certified psychedelia, not Step­penwolf or anything. The most obvious parallel would be Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd ('Interstel­lar Overdrive' etc.), except that the guitarists exude far more sanity and technicality.

As for 'Phallus Dei' itself, it is more like a completely free-form jam, without even an introducto­ry theme, and much more steeped in standard rock'n'roll — the groove that emerges out of the first three minutes of psycho noises shows the «garage» side of this band, as the rhythm section and both guitarists rev up the tempo and start competing in the art of ass-kicking. The groove that the band launches into after a clumsy, wobbly pause must have been subconsciously borrowed from the Amboy Dukes' 'Journey To The Center Of The Mind' — one of the most perfect fusions of hard rock and psychedelia. The final results are meaty enough, but probably twenty minutes is a bit too long for a flight that, no matter how free, has been launched from such a familiar runway.

Essentially, Phallus Dei is like a grand rehearsal for the real show: all the elements firmly in place, but without that little special spark to really drive the performance home. The style that would ensure the uniqueness of the band has been found — dark, but not depressing, space rock with a slight touch of the carnival spirit and a healthy dose of Bavarian buffoonery. But it would take the next album to prove that this uniqueness had a really good reason to be unique. Thumbs up, but oh so modestly — if you are completely new to this band and would rather prefer to be swept off your feet than mildly amused, go straight to Yeti, and don't forget to pass go and collect your $200.

Check "Phallus Dei" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Phallus Dei" (MP3) on Amazon

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