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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Amon Düül II: Yeti


AMON DÜÜL II: YETI (1970)

1) Soap Shop Rock; 2) She Came Through The Chimney; 3) Archangels Thunderbird; 4) The Return Of Ruebezahl; 5) Eye-Shaking King; 6) Pale Gallery; 7) Yeti; 8) Yeti Talks To Yogi; 9) Sandoz In The Rain.

The big difference between Phallus Dei and Yeti is that the former still sounds more «stoned» than «experimental». On the band's second album, the tables are turned. The band that recklessly and delightfully jammed on Phallus Dei was, by all means, a musical band, but one that could have easily faded away in history like so many virtual unknowns from the same era. The band that meticulously and purposefully laid down the foundation for Yeti, though — these guys are already one of the primary driving forces of Krautrock; there is no way they could disappear in smoke without the world sitting up and taking notice.

Not that I'd like to conjure up images of a precise plan, conveying, bit by bit, some well thought-out musical ideology: even at their tightest and most ambitious, Amon Düül II were nothing like, say, the musical philosophers of Kraftwerk. The album, after all, is named after the Abominable Snowman — whereas the front cover, for no reason I can think of, depicts The Grim Reaper in­stead (with the band's sound man posing as the gentleman in question). That just about gives the right idea of the degree of the album's conceptual or ideological coherence. Song titles and lyrics need not be paid much attention here — except for a few brief seconds of wondering at all the delirious word combinations, well steeped in the avantgarde tradition.

If there is an actual idea behind all the rampage of Yeti, it may be that of a certain denseness of sound, a kind of an aura that I would call «Jungle Psychedelia». When you start thinking where this strange, strange music is growing from, one immediate influence is the American psychedelic scene — the sprawling jams of San Franciscan bands — but that sound, no matter how boring or how interesting, was decidedly thinner and less picturesque than the exotic, dangerous landscapes painted by Chris Karrer and his merry German pals.

When 'Soap Shop Rock' introduces the album with a blues-rock riff not unlike Canned Heat or Steppenwolf, the first few bars almost give a misguided impression — has this band gone in a «root­sy» direction? 30 or 40 seconds into the song, though, you begin to understand that, altho­ugh they are using traditional blues / rock'n'roll approaches to playing, this is merely a foundation for something completely different. The guitar players throw on everything they can think of, from jazz to classical guitar to psychodrome to Indian ragas. The violin player idolizes John Cale, laying it on like a country fiddler who has just learned to play him some Schoenberg. The male singer sings with bleating Eastern overtones, the female singer sings like Isolde on speed. And on top of that, if you get too bored, they pile some memorable melodic hooks. Occasionally. And much of the time, it all goes on at once, with your ears constantly occupied in a mad rush from one spot to another, unable to settle on any one thing permanently, like in one of those Robert Altman movies.

That's Amon Düül II at their finest, in a nutshell. Sometimes there are softer, gentler interludes ('She Came Through The Chimney', with a bizarre electronic solo that squeaks at such a high pitch you'd think she must have had some real trouble coming through that chimney), which are quickly replaced by more of that jungle bombast. If the 13-minute 'Soap Shop Rock' seems like overkill to you, try 'Archangels Thunderbird' — all the magic of the band compressed into three and a half minutes of brutal riffage, «non-standard» singing, and thick-as-thieves series of over­dubs. Although stopping at 'Thunderbird' would be a crime, too: neither Renate Knaup's vocals, nor Chris Karrer's violin feature on it all that much. And the guitar solos on 'Eye-Shaking King' are louder and wilder.

The music becomes far less focused on the second LP of the package, which does honestly warn the listener that all of the music there is improvised. The title track, clocking in at 18 minutes, has its moments, and essentially follows the same vibes as the first LP, but due to a lack of pre-re­hear­sed structure, can seem like a fall back to the stage of Phallus Dei — somewhat of a letdown after the concentrated jungle assault of 'Soap Shop Rock' and its peers. Which is not denying the mood, and the background effect, and the unique combination of sound ingredients, etc. And even the second LP does have some structural planning: after the generally grim, «spooky» atmo­sphere of 'Yeti' and 'Yeti Talks To Yogi', 'Sandoz In The Rain' closes the album on a gentler note, with folksy chord sequences, acoustic guitars, and flutes, to soften down and placate the disturbed senses. Take a load off. Your trip to the musical jungle of Amon Düül II ends standing on a sunlit open patch, rather than in the densest, darkest, eeriest part of the forest.

This disproportionate importance of the two LPs means that, at this stage, the band was still in a state of transition — the peak of their powers would not be reached until the next record — but this sort of transition is worth ten instances of «reaching maturity» for lesser bands. And, want it or not, never again (with the possible exception of Wolf City) would the band come across as po­ssessing such monstruous rocking power — Yeti may not be as fantastically inventive as subse­quent albums, but it compensates by kicking all of their asses to high heaven; how could it not get a major thumbs up due to that fact alone?


Check "Yeti" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Yeti" (MP3) on Amazon

2 comments:

  1. Love this album. I was (and am) a bit surprised to see this here though, since you already reviewed this on your old website, and the only difference in your preference seems to be that you're a bit lighter towards the 2nd disk. Regardless, still a kraut classic.

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  2. "without the world sitting up and taking notice"
    I love it

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