ASHRA: NEW AGE OF EARTH (1976)
1) Sunrain; 2) Ocean Of Tenderness; 3) Deep Distance; 4) Nightdust.
Although, after the final split of Ash Ra Tempel, Göttsching did actually record a solo album under his own name (Inventions For Electric Guitar from 1975), he quickly returned to the old moniker — afraid, perhaps, that the trance-inducing powers of the old band's sound made his fans insensitive to individual members' names, so that an album from «Manuel Göttsching» would impress them no more than one from Roger Rabbit. But since it was fairly strange to retain the original name for a solo artist, the compromise solution turned out to be the shortened variant. Ashra sounded nice, and today, Wikipedia tells us that it is also an abbreviation for All-sky Survey High Resolution Air-shower detector at the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research at the University of Tokyo, which, coincidentally, was established in 1976 — exactly the year in which Ashra's first album was released. Bizarre!
Because the album is all about cosmic rays, in a way. If Starring Rosi took Göttsching the farthest he ever got away from electronic landscapes, his mid-1970s output reversed the direction. On New Age Of Earth, synthesizers not only rule the day, but fill it up for a total of about 90%. So much so that when Göttsching actually starts adding guitar overdubs, it is possible to miss them — to be aurally duped into thinking it's all about keys and knobs when, in fact, Manuel has already been playing lovely lead parts for a couple of minutes.
The major problem with this new «reboot», however, is that it is not at all clear what would be the point of Göttsching's new image. With Join Inn and Starring Rosi, he was, either with the aid of his band members or on his own, carving out sound paintings that had no direct analogies. But here what he did was land squarely in the niche already firmly occupied — almost privatized, I'd say — by Tangerine Dream and, around the same time, his former pal Klaus Schulze. Dynamic ambient fields of electronic sounds can be diverse enough, but it takes a braver mind to assess that diversity than in the case of ordinary pop music. And as pompous as the album title is, it does not exactly provide any brand new thrills that listeners hadn't already experienced with the aid of Rubycon or Timewind.
But if we only manage to forget such words as «groundbreaking» and «landmark», and content ourselves with knowing that Göttsching recorded this simply as a result of falling in love with pure electronica, New Age Of Earth is a not half-bad representative of the genre. Divided in two unequal parts, the former consisting of 'Sunrain' and 'Deep Distance', built on rhythmic loops, and the latter of 'Ocean Of Tenderness' and 'Nightdust', built on pure atmosphere, it is at least as good as the electronica-dominated passages on Ash Ra Tempel's albums. Which, for me, is not saying much, because my favorites, for the most part, were the not-electronica-dominated passages.
If you are still more interested in how the German genius' fingers pluck the strings rather than press the keys, fast forward to the end of 'Ocean Of Tenderness' and 'Nightdust' — the former culminates with a series of semi-jazzy, semi-country-rock licks played without a rhythmic backbone, and the latter ends in a stern distorted solo, on a gruff apocalyptic note that might also show acquaintance with the Who's Quadrophenia. Altogether, however, this is about 10% of the complete running time. (Also, the repetitive hum of the bassline on 'Ocean Of Tenderness' might be physically annoying — I almost literally got a headache from it, so be warned). The rest is all Beautiful Bleeping. Don't forget the record on your next trip outside the Milky Way.
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