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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Amon Düül II: Nada Moonshine #


1) Castaneda Da Dream; 2) Nada Moonshine Union; 3) Speed Inside My Shoes; 4) Sirens In Germanistan; 5) Lilac Lil­lies; 6) Kiss Ma Eee; 7) Carpetride In Velvet Night; 8) Black Pearl Of Wisdom; 9) Ça Va; 10) Guadalquivir.

The next reunion of Amon Düül II took place fourteen years after Vortex — and not a moment too soon, allowing the band to skip falling under cheesy Eighties' influences. The line-up here in­cludes Karrer, Leopold, Meid, and Renate, that is, most of the founding fathers and mothers, with the unfortunate exclusion of Weinzierl (who had spent most of the previous decade with his own UK-based version of «Amon Düül»), replaced by new guitarist Felice Occhionero (Italian? In a Bavarian band? Confound this age of globalization!) Nobody either expected the reunion or, in fact, noticed it, apart from a few prog veterans. The band had not given the world anything truly worth its while since Made In Germany; what would be the sense of reuniting?

The answer is — to prove to themselves, at least, that they still had it in them to release an album that would be unpredictable, interesting, and inspiring. This is, after all, the only reason for a re­union that is not overtly cash-targeted (never a chief concern for these guys). And how do they fare? Well, I think that they hit it right on the «unpredictable» and «interesting» notches — as for «inspiring», you'd probably have to jump through a couple hoops to reach that mark.

In terms of atmosphere, the band certainly tries to recapture the mystical jungle-like spirit of old. However, this is not achieved by bluesy jamming or thick instrumental density. Instead of that, they go for the mixing panel. The whole thing is echoey and wobbly, the synthesizers employ the latest in cool and uncool tones, the guitars are «treated», and there are lots of «special effects» overdubs: Nada Moonshine # is a hundred percent «studio creation».

This may sound like bad news. Sure, Amon Düül II had abandoned most of their jamming power as early as 1972, but, since then, the only thing that kept them alive for three more years was the ability to concentrate on melodic art-rock instead. Nada Moonshine #, in contrast, consists most­ly of rather large (five to eight or nine minutes) atmospheric pieces that are neither sweaty jams nor catchy pop songs. Worse, they do not really understand properly how to borrow stuff from the young ones without causing grounds for embarrassment (the techno beats that accompany the second half of 'Lilac Lillies' are one of the stupidest moments on an otherwise non-stupid record by a major artist I have ever heard). Still worse, the name «Castaneda» appears in the title of the first track — the way I see it, this is more or less the equivalent of admitting that the words of the songs not only do not matter, but absolutely have to be ignored. (The band was never all that hot in the lyrics department, but some of their nonsense at least used to be used to comic effect).

But none of this really matters, because the reunited band has resolved the major problem of Vor­tex — they finally learned to make these dense, brooding, mystical, (sometimes) Eastern-tinged landscapes sound meaningful and involving, by simply pushing the boundaries. Essentially, they just try out All Sorts Of Things to see what can happen — boldly and crudely. Sometimes it's a catastrophe ('Lilac Lillies'; the repetitive, silly-sounding "LOUIE LOUIE KISS MA EEE" mantra voiced by Renate on the appropriately titled 'Kiss Ma Eee'). More often, it's a decent hook.

The way the «ethereal» chorus of the title track eventually surges out of the surrounding pseudo-hip-hop chaos, or out of the blazing guitar solo. The grimly acid sax riff of 'Speed Inside My Shoes'. The «ominous» side effects of the «child chorus» on 'Sirens In Germanistan'. The unex­pected operatic coda to 'Kiss Ma Eee', verging on sheer beauty if not for the ever-weakening po­wers of Renate's voice (which never had the proper operatic stamina in the first place). And a per­sonal favorite of mine — the terrific idea to speed up 'Ça Va', which begins as something of an «old wise man ballad», all moody soothing vocals strewn over an adult contemporary type of ar­rangement — then, midway through, picks up tempo and becomes one of the fastest and most ferocious ro­ckers these guys ever tackled.

As much as Nada Moonshine # is plagued with «wrong moves», for me, it is unquestionably the band's finest moment in twenty years — a comeback one would never expect after all the pathe­tic blunders of the Klaus Ebert period. It is actually a little bit worriesome how «crazy» it sounds: I feel the same nervous reaction as I do when listening to late-period Gong reunions (a 70-year old Gilli Smyth impersonating sexy psychedelic witches, etc.). But this may really have something to do with the overall deterioration of Renate's vocals — she always had a strange tone, and now that strange tone borders on «decrepit». One can get used to it eventually, though; and then it's a respectable thumbs up all the way.

Check "Nada Moonshine #" (CD) on Amazon

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