November 6, 2009
Seeing an opening cut on the jacket simply titled “Krautrock” intrigued me, as I certainly count myself among the fans of the genre known by the same name. I never had a clue that the genre title used to describe the likes of Kraftwerk, Can and Neu! actually came from a Faust record.
This opening track is actually a noisy instrumental piece of loud, pulsing synthesizers that thread an array of randomly growling electric guitars with a steady tambourine beat beneath it all. Halfway through the tambourine gives way to a drum kit that takes over the rhythm and the guitars continue to wrestle and wind with each other, oblivious to the beat. It’s some of the most blissed-out noise ever recorded.
The piece actually reminds me of early Stereolab. Stereolab were never shy about their early Krautrock influences, and beyond their rhythmic electric guitar jangle clearly inspired by the work of Neu! I can finally hear where Faust figures into their equation.
The next song is an extreme shift from the fuzzy, trippy ebb and flow of “Krautrock.” “The Sad Skinhead” cuts into the hypnotic state induced by the early track with a sloppy, over-modulated yell and creepy, stalking guitar lines, with occasional moans of feedback, with lyrics sung in heavy accented English:
“Apart from all the bad times you gave me
I always felt good with you
Going places, smashing faces
what else could we do?”
Again, in perfect complement/contrast to that almost annoying song, the next cut stuns in its shift of tone. “Jennifer” blows over you like a cloud of soothing, enveloping cool air.* The throbbing, rhythmic drone below a lugubrious and dreamy guitar hook on “Jennifer” pulses with amazing vividness on the wax. This is easily my favorite track on the album. The dreamy, breezy guitar hook repeats over and over again as the singer croons surreal lyrics: “Jennifer, your red hair’s burning/Yellow jokes come out of your mind” before swelling into a wash of noisy distortion that ebbs and flows like waves lapping the shoreline of some faraway, other-worldly beach made of white noise. Then, the crash of a cymbal cuts the noise off only for a coda featuring some old-time sounding piano, that still follows the Krautrock aesthetic of catchy, simple, redundant hook with random improvisation flitting and dancing over it. In this case, the low end becomes an anchoring droney, hook, and the higher octave winds up and down the scales in some nightmare attempt to make a melody.
The second side opens with “Just a Second,” another brilliant instrumental of guitars and synthesizers, which melts into the psycho bounce of “Giggy Smile,” which has an extraordinary amount of shifts in tones and styles, opening with a zany polka-like sing-song and shifting into a chill jazz number with saxophone and then ending in some super catchy, driving keyboard hook with guitars weaving in and our and zipping about. It’s so repetitive it sticks in your head, but the layers of the improvised guitar playing is so dynamic, it never grows tiresome.
“Giggy Smile” comes to an abrupt halt and you suddenly hear what sounds like some casual conversation in the recording booth in German, the only spoken or sung German on the entire record. Just as this peek behind the curtain appears, it vanishes into the pastoral ramble of “Lauft… Heisst Das es Lauft Oder es Kommt Bald… Lauft” (that is the brief spoken German dialogue). The gentle acoustic guitar punctuated by a driving violin and handclaps and a distant, howling flute with vocals sung in French again offers an odd shift away from the stylings of the other tracks.
As the whirring din of rattle hushes “Lauft” and a meandering synthesizer that recalls the mood music of another famous Krautrock act, Tangerine Dream—or another Krautrock-influenced Englishman Brian Eno—hums along like an ambient puff of harmonic smoke. It swells loudly then dissolves into another soft acoustic-guitar driven song that again has pastoral qualities, the finale: “It’s a bit of a Pain.” The track, a beautiful, soft moment of rambling acoustic guitar and dreamy piano, punctuated by the occasional juxtaposition of white noise buzz from some other-dimensional synthesizer, soon rambles off into quietness, closing out one of the greatest art rock records ever composed.
Caught up with the mastery of the music on the record, I have to hand it to Capitol/EMI in its remastering. Subtle sounds, like the delicate throb of “Jennifer,” which is more felt than heard, is as clean as can be (hence why you need the vinyl, as on the CD things get muddy due to the limits of compressed sound). The rattle above the calming acoustic guitar and whining violin of “Lauft” almost hovers out of the speakers, as if it’s coming from another room.
Sourced from the original master tapes, according to the liner notes on the inner sleeve (which even faithfully reproduce the band’s tour dates at the time of the record’s release), the dynamic depth of these complex tracks, so laden in noise, dazzle. This is the sort of record made for appreciation through the depth of vinyl. I honestly do not believe I would have enjoyed it as much had I heard it on CD first. This music is too dynamic and complex to be relegated to that restrictive medium, much less the mp3 format.
*I can’t help but think about that out-of-order Wolfmother record I got earlier this week, and how important the order of the tracks are on this record. Fitting songs on two sides of a record is an art mostly lost on today’s musicians. With the varied dynamics and sounds on Faust IV that lend so much to the flow of the songs, the right order of tracks is essential to experiencing this record all the way through. It’s a true masterpiece through and through.