October 6, 2011

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Popol Vuh

Revisited & Remixed 1970-1999


There’s much more to Krautrock—the term used for innovative German rock from the late ’60s through the ’70s—than driving, entrancing, minimalist styles, heard in recognized classics such as Can’s “Mother Sky” and NEU!’s “Hallogallo.” Among the more abstract, electronically enhanced bands playing the “kosmische” flavor of Krautrock, one key group was Popol Vuh, formed by keyboardist Florian Fricke. Popol Vuh’s music was expansive, sometimes ambient-leaning, with various international elements and a sense of mysticism and even spirituality. At times, it’s like the aural equivalent of taking a long, thoughtful gaze at some massive ancient monument and being nourished by it and its vast natural surroundings.

The new 2-CD compilation Revisited & Remixed 1970-1999, arriving 10 years after Fricke passed away, seems to have been designed entirely with the newcomer in mind. The first disc, “Planet Side,” is a solid assortment, concentrating heavily on the band’s early Moog synthesizer-enhanced works and soundtracks for films by the legendary director Werner Herzog. Although the quality is high, this is not exactly a balanced collection, featuring no tracks from certain major albums such as Einsjäger & Siebenjäger and a relative dearth of vocals. There’s nothing with key Korean singer Djong Yun, but there’s a German choir on “Brüder Des Schattens”—that’s about it. However, it’s hard to quibble when what’s included is pretty incredible stuff, including vital Popol Vuh material such as the airy, haunting “Aguirre I” with a Mellotron chorus, “Through Pains to Heaven” from Nosferatu with Euro-folk melodies and buzzing tambura drones, and roughly half of each of the group’s first two albums.

The second disc, “Cosmic Side,” is an apparent attempt to reach a younger audience using remixes from electronic artists, and it’s hit-or-miss. Some have four-on-the-floor beats pointlessly tacked on, while others are more palatable, such as the one from Stereolab for “Hosianna Mantra,” with subtle, restrained keyboard flourishes; Mouse on Mars delivers an imaginative, yet startling reworking of “Through Pains to Heaven,” with sound warping and a video-game-esque playfulness. As an intro, this collection will do, but I recommend starting from the beginning, with 1970’s Affenstunde, and working your way up in the catalog; or, watch Herzog’s superb Aguirre, the Wrath of God and experience a masterpiece of both vision and sound.

Various Artists

Domestic Pop Deux


Contemporaneous various-artists compilations can often be dodgy affairs, sometimes with leftover tracks jumbled together with no real organization, but every so often, one is assembled with thought and care, capturing some subgenre zeitgeist with acts putting their best feet forward. A few standouts that come to mind are spinART’s indie-pop compilation …One Last Kiss, Drunken Fish’s 1996 drone/space-rock set Harmony of the Spheres, and States Rights Records’ electronic-leaning pop collection Bro Zone, and sonically in line with that last one is the new anthology from the London-based label Lo Alternative Frequencies (LOAF), Domestic Pop Deux. A significant portion of the collection is in line with the new wave, synth-pop revival that’s in full swing, with quirky, upbeat electronic music that at times evokes the more poppy moments of Animal Collective.

By “domestic,” the compilation’s title doesn’t mean the geographic term (the cheeky cover art clinches this), featuring acts from near and far, like the Belgian group él-g, which contributes the lithe, gentle, French-sung “Armelle,” COOLRUNNINGS from Knoxville, Tenn. with the post-punk, post-rad “San Dimas Oasis,” and the mysterious Clive Tanaka, who, if we are to believe, is a Japanese musician and manufacturing mogul (though my bet is he’s an American dude with a fabricated backstory). Dustin Wong, guitarist of Ponytail and Ecstatic Sunshine, delivers the solo track “Anniversary Song,” which doesn’t sound like either of the aforementioned groups, nor like his 2010 layered guitar album Infinite Love; it’s a busy, cute, and jittery sample-and-drum machine instrumental. Nickel Pressing’s “Beck Is Back” brings to mind the rock-band-with-violin approach of the Dambuilders, with stirring, wild violin lines and a manic style. Grimes (the one-woman band of Claire Boucher) uses guitar lines that evoke the Cure on “Devon,” combined with sensual, incomprehensible vocals, heavy on the reverb.

I’m not sure if every artist on Domestic Pop Deux is capable of holding the listener’s attention over the course of an entire album, but each track has a spark; although not all are mind-blowing, none drags down the album, and there’s a healthy, infectious momentum, with the hit/miss ratio well above average.  


October 6, 2011

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