Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pyrolator, AUSLAND

Ata Tak, 1981; available with bonus tracks

CD: 20 tracks, 68:43

Pyrolator's name has shown up a lot here. A founding member of Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft AND a long-term part of Der Plan, the man otherwise known as Kurt Dahlke has had a big hand in the development of German new wave and post-punk. AUSLAND was his second album, following the minimal masterpiece INLAND*. For this gem, Dahlke recorded all the synth and drum machine programming into a proto-MIDI unit called the Brontologik. He then invited other musicians to add elements over the basic electronic tracks. What resulted was a varied blend of accessibility and quirkiness, with individual songs going from minimal synth to catchy electro-pop to almost no wave and everywhere in between. The majority of the tracks feature guest vocalists, ranging from the catchy to the almost grating. Other guests include Dahlke's co-conspirators in Der Plan and Frederik Nilsen from the LAFMS on "cross-string guitar"! Musically, it sounds much more high-tech than Der Plan; the synths dominate the proceedings, all sounding gloriously vintage nowadays. The instrumentals, such as the groovy "Elefantendisco" and the potent "180°", are the most effective pieces of music. Still, vocal tracks like the charming "Mein Hund", the trancey "Du Bist So... Ich Träume", and the wild "Die Haut Der Frau" are quite enjoyable! There's even time for sound collage with the odd "True Love". Eight bonus tracks round out the package. Some of these sound like outtakes from INLAND, and reflect that album's minimal electronic genius; I'm particularly fond of "Danger Cruising Part 2". Others are firmly connected to AUSLAND, and these are some of the best tracks on the disc! The closing "Programm No. 1" is particularly great, being a live performance with Fenstermacher on vocals. If you enjoy DAF and Der Plan, as well as no wave and the more out-there realms of synthpop, AUSLAND should be a part of your collection. If you have trouble finding it, try Ata Tak direct (they also sell the previously reviewed Der Plan compilation).

*INLAND is much harder to find, but as of 9/15/11 I FOUND IT ON CD! Expect a review soon! It's VERY differet from AUSLAND.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Ata Tak, 1996 (see review for individual release dates); available

33 tracks, 75:46

This handy compilation collects the first two LPs by German oddballs Der Plan. After a crazy debut single*, Moritz Rrr (aka Moritz R®; real name Moritz Reichelt) and Frank Fenstermacher hooked up with ex-DAF synthman Pyrolator (real name Kurt Dahlke). GERI REIG came out in 1980, and it was a strange mix of then-current new wave/synthpop, electronic no wave, and pure eccentricity. Der Plan apparently used toys and other non-traditional instruments in addition to synths. "Adrenalin Lässt Das Blut Kochen" starts things off with eerie minimal synth sounds, only to be followed by "Geri Reig"'s goofy electro-reggae-with-funny-voices. Pretty much everything on here falls between those two extremes, with some time left for musique concrete experimentation along the way. It's something of an acquired taste, but the music should take precedence over the weird vocals. Fast forward to 1981, and Der Plan released their second LP. Well, maybe LP is a stretch; NORMALETTE SURPRISE would probably be closer to a mini-LP by today's standards. The A-side consisted of twelve short tracks, ranging from the catchy "Leb Doch" and "Das Insekt" to the odd "Ich Bin Ein Komputer"; it also played at 33 1/3. The B-side consisted of only three tracks, played at 45, and was just barely over five minutes long! Considering this side has the eerie "Zurück In Die Atmosphäre", that's hardly a complaint. Musically, NORMALETTE SURPRISE is more traditional synthpop, but with a distinct twist. For this CD, Der Plan included three bonus tracks. The disturbing "Rot Grün Tot" is from the B-side of "Da Vorne Steht Ne Ampel" (sadly not included, but worth finding!), while "8 1/2" and "Wir Werden Imme Mehr" are from the FIX PLANET! 7". This adds up to a lengthy exploration of the years when krautrock was giving way to Neue Deutsch Welle, and as such it's worth acquiring for fans of the more electronic side of new wave. There's quite a bit in common with the electro-no wave acts as well, so fans of that sound should consider investing in this as well. Maybe this will tell you if you want this or not: Think of a cross between early DAF and the Residents. Check back soon for a review of Pyrolator's solo album AUSLAND!

*The lineup for the single, oddly enough, consisted of Fenstermacher, Rrr, Chrislo Haas, and Robert Görl. Haas went on to DAF and Liaisons Dangereuses, while Görl stuck it out with DAF. This single is actually very close to a cross between early DAF and early Chrome. To drive the comparison home, PRODUKT DER DEUTSCH-AMERIKANISCHE FREUNDSCHAFT came out on Ata Tak as well!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Franco Battiato, SULLE CORDE DI ARIES and CLIC

Bla Bla, 1973; reissued by BMG; available

4 tracks, 33:26

Bla Bla, 1974; reissued by BMG; available

7 tracks, 32:07

Battiato's amazing first two albums, FETUS and POLLUTION, were reviewed here a while ago. It's about time I got to the other two albums from his classic early quartet!

For SULLE CORDE DI ARIES, Battiato is joined on every track by percussionist Gianfranco D'Adda and guitarist/mandolinist Gianni Mocchetti*. He has several guest artists across the tracks as well, from violin to recited vocals. Battiato himself tackles the VCS3, guitar, prepared piano, and kalimba. A distinct retreat from the rock touches of POLLUTION, SULLE finds Franco somewhere between modern composition and cosmic pop-rock. The sidelong "Sequenze E Frequenze" is mostly an electronic pulse, anchored by drums and other touches. It easily rivals the best cosmic music from Germany, and might even surpass some of the better-known acts in that style. The B-side is made up of three shorter tracks. The instrumental "Aries" and moody near-classical "Aria Di Rivoluzione" show how much Battiato has progressed from the almost naive FETUS. "Da Oriente A Occidente" starts with a VCS3 whine and double-tracked, slightly out-of-phase vocals, leading to a wonderfully folky tune that ends the album quite unexpectedly. Definitely his most assured outing to this point, SULLE CORDE DI ARIES would be hard to beat.

Leave it to Franco to beat it! Dedicated to none other than Karlheinz Stockhausen, CLIC was Battiato's first real stab at modern composition. D'Adda and Mocchetti are back (with Mocchetti playing bass and guitar rather than mandolin); Juri Camisasca and Pietro Pizzamiglio are credited with vocal effects, and the Quartetto Ensemble del Conservatorio di Milano also helps out a bit. This time around, Battiato himself takes on piano, organ, mandolin, VCS3, "crystals" and "metals"(!). Only the stunning "No U Turn" features Franco's singing; the rest of the album is avant-instrumental music of a high caliber. "Rien Ne Va Plus - Andante" and "Ethika Fon Ethica" are brief but humorous sound collages; they may not be the best examples of this style, but they're still fun! Several tracks are absolutely gorgeous electronic pieces, including the minimal "Il Mercato Degli Dei" and the stunning "I Cancelli Della Memoria". "Propriedad Prohibida", while ostensibly a joking jab at the more-left-wing Italian prog acts, is a perfectly stunning piece of synth bliss. With CLIC, Battiato showed the world that he was indeed an artist to take seriously.

These albums are available as fairly priced Italian imports. Both are highly recommended, and with POLLUTION and FETUS they form an impressive early body of work. From here, Battiato would go further into experimentation; unfortunately, and as previously mentioned, for a while this meant whole sides of two piano notes being struck repeatedly. From there, he went into his pure pop phase and out of my realm of interest.

*D'Adda and Mocchetti were an essential part of the early Battiato sound; they also appeared on FETUS and POLLUTION. Sadly, CLIC was their final appearance on a Battiato album.