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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Amon Düül II: Tanz Der Lemminge


1) Syntelman's March Of The Roaring Seventies; 2) Restless Skylight Transistor Child; 3) The Marilyn Monroe Me­mo­rial Church; 4) Chewinggum Telegram; 5) Stumbling Over Melted Moonlight; 6) Toxicological Whispering.

Not even the murky jungleland of Yeti can prepare the listener for the «shoot down all barriers» marathon that is The Dance Of The Lemmings, Amon Düül II's crowning masterpiece that earned them the right to resign in dignity (although I do not blame them for preferring to fizzle out in dis­grace — there are still plenty of goodies in the subsequent catalog). If there was an album in 1971 on which the universe of music was stretched out to a higher extreme, I have yet to hear it; and, as we all know, 1971 was no slouch when it came to stretching out.

Technically, each of the first three sides of this double LP contains one lengthy suite, whereas side four consists of three shorter tracks; in reality, this information is irrelevant — the «suites» themselves are created from snippets that have little to do with each other. The best choice one could make, I think, is to simply accept the album as one sprawling seventy-minute long sonic fantasy, an Alice In Wonderland filtered through the drug-fueled, but playful conscience of Ger­man «non-academic avantgardism». As all such things go, it may work better if the listener's con­science is drug-fueled, too, but you're on your own with that one (this site is strictly adhering to the «just say no» policy, no matter how hard it may get).

Actually, Tanz Der Lemminge becomes most delightful only in comparison. As 'Syntelman's March' starts us off on our psychedelic voyage, one can easily see the links to the acid rock sce­nes in the US and the UK — the backbone sounds like acoustic folk crossed with Eastern music and going crazy in the process. But the more it goes on, the more and more different other ingre­dients are thrown in, in radical contrast to Friscan psycho jams, usually very poor on fantasy. Any­one accustomed to dismissing psychedelic music as «hippie crap», a.k.a. interminable wan­king based on single-string drones or limited bluesy improvising techniques, will have to waive that opinion after sitting through the first ten minutes of 'Syntelman'. Spooky cosmic Mellotrons, gypsy violins, tablas, flamenco guitar, Beatlesque electric pop riffs, barrelhouse piano, and I have not listed even half of what's on there, I think — and it's just the first side.

The second side ('Restless Skylight'), if at all possible, is even more inventive, complementing the diversity with sitars and hard-rocking parts (the riff that bursts through your speakers at 7:08 is every rocker's dream — lower the tone a little and Tony Iommi would have paid good money to appropriate it for Master Of Reality). And then, on side three, 'The Marilyn Monroe Memorial Church' goes for a complete change of scene, dropping melody and rhythm in favor of mood and atmosphere: eighteen minutes of creepy soundtrackish «muzak», during which the intrepid jungle traveler of Yeti has finally given up his machete and, from an active breaker of new ground, has turned into a frightened passive observer, as the amicable, but deadly dangerous friends of the fo­rest hurry past him about their daily (or, rather, nightly) tasks.

Come to think of it, 'Memorial Church', despite being largely improvised and having no firm structure to speak of, may be one of Amon Düül II's greatest contributions to humanity. Its dark mystique is not fully unprecedented — one could say that it draws its inspiration, among other things, from the mid-section of Led Zep's 'Dazed And Confused', or from the Doors' 'Horse Lati­tudes' — but it is the first time ever that someone dared to explore the limits of that mystique to such a full extent. It is essentially eighteen minutes of «dicking around», and yet it doesn't feel bo­­ring, or, at least, doesn't have to feel boring. Just think of yourself as Snow White groping around in the dark forest, and eighteen minutes will pass in a jiffy.

Strange enough, the band would never again try anything as totally far out as this record. Having blown to bits all notions of limits and borders, Karrer, Weinzierl and Co. seem to have decided that operating within certain conventions is, after all, a more challenging task for the artist than demolishing any such conventions — a notion that I generally endorse, but not necessarily in this case. Tanz Der Lemminge is a triumph of near-total freedom, but it is the kind of near-total free­dom that I love the best: one that does not forget about sheer entertainment value, diversity, and melodicity (pardon my French). It sounds like nothing else, yet still goes fairly easy on the «nor­mal» ear. Not only does it have absolutely nothing to do with the weirdness of, say, Captain Beef­heart's Trout Mask Replica (weirdness that I am not afraid to call «anti-musical»), but when you get down to dissecting all of its little bits, you find out that each one of them is fairly normal and even simple in its own rights. No crazy time signatures, no earth-shaking dissonance, not even any ultra-ugly sound effects or feedback abuse. It is only the recklessly kaleidoscopic approach that makes Tanz what it is — namely, one of the most mind-blowing experiences of the late stage of the psychedelic era. Thumbs up a-plenty; in fact, I'd like to borrow yours as well.

Check "Tanz Der Lemminge" (CD) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. I played this some in front of my family recently, my Dad almost immediately began singing 'Get Back' to the opening guitar bit to 'Syntelman'.