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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ashra: @shra + @shra Vol. 2

ASHRA: @SHRA + @SHRA VOL. 2 (1998/2002)

1) Echo Waves; 2) Twelve Samples; 3) Timbuktu; 4) Niemand Lacht Rückwärts; 5) Sunrain; 6) Four Guitars; 7) Hausaufgabe; 8) Oasis; 9) Move 9 Up.

Strictly speaking, these are two different albums, released subsequently in 1998 and 2002, and thus, should be given different reviews. But there are at least three combined reasons for which they deserve to constitute an exception. (1) All of the material is taken from the same set of To­kyo and Osaka live shows, from the band's Japanese tour in February 1997; (2) All of the mate­rial on @shra, with the exception of 'Timbuktu', duplicates the setlist on Sauce Hollandaise, so there is little sense in reviewing it separately; (3) Both albums were eventually combined into one 2CD set, released in 2008, so we can pretend they never existed as separate entities in the first place.

To these three reasons, add a fourth: I really have no good idea on what could be said about these albums that hasn't already been said before. There is one significant change from the sound of Sauce which I do not appreciate: the percussion, most of the time, is electronic, resulting in a much more «generic techno»-oriented sound. Why this is so, despite the fact that the band still has Harold Grosskopf at its full disposal, is beyond me. Maybe they just thought that the «Land Of The Rising Sun», with its penchant for all things robo-related, would appreciate a more mech­a­nized sound than the folks in Holland, who supposedly like it «jazzier». (Wild, wild guesses). In any case, if the idea was to get more hip with the times, it could only help in the short run — in the long one, Sauce Hollandaise will always be more recommendable than @shra.

On the positive side, the basic recording quality here is a tad higher than on Sauce: Göttsching's solos, e. g. on 'Echo Waves', are less echoey, more shrill, and rise more notably above the mix than they did before — always laudable, because atmosphere and trance is one thing, but at the bottom of it, first and foremost, we all come back to Ashra to hear these wall-rattling solos. This is why the addition of the eight-minute long lightweight safari-style 'Timbuktu' to @shra does little to improve its status — no solos!

The second disc has a number of tracks whose titles I do not recognize (some may be new, some may be reworkings of Göttsching's solo album tracks), plus an extended version of 'Four Guitars' from Walkin' The Desert — and yes, somehow they work up these samplers to replicate all the necessary guitar parts (don't ask me how they manage it technically, I'm the least close person in the world to a techno buff). The setlist cleverly alternates between soft, mood-setting pieces ('Sun­rain', 'Oasis') and harder, darker stuff ('Hausaufgabe', 'Move 9 Up'); 'Move 9 Up', in particu­lar, is a guitar monster, starting off in an Ashra-generic «echo-wave» form and then going off into speedy, punchy, aggressive hard rock mode; unlike other tracks, where Göttsching would emerge with a solo climax only towards the very end, 'Move 9 Up' is carried on by guitar fireworks for all of its 14 minutes, clearly making it the highlight of Vol. 2.

Overall, if you can stand a little «umtsa-umtsa» in your life without blushing, or, vice versa, if you are not offended by your umtsa-umtsa in the hands of fifty-year old farts, @shra is yet ano­ther example of one of Germany's most intelligent gifts to the art of sound incapable of any wrong moves. As for myself, all I can say is — any electronic album that goes on for two hours without forcing me to start climbing up walls is okay by me, so a thumbs up it is.

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