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Various Artists – Cologne Curiosities: The Unknown Krautrock Underground 1972-1976 (2016) review


Various Artists – Cologne Curiosities: The Unknown Krautrock Underground 1972-1976 (Mental Experience, 2016)

The liner notes to these curiosities are almost as confusing as the songs themselves. For starters, their author, Alan Freeman, co-owner of Leicester’s Ultima Thuma record shoppe and co-author of one of the Krautrock bibles, The Crack In The Cosmic Egg begins by giving us the history of a mythological German label from the 70s that allegedly released rare albums by the likes of Cosmic Corridors, Galactic Explorers, and Golem – none of whom, by the way, are included in this compilation. He then goes on to regale us with the story of one Tony Robinson, a former engineer at the legendary WDR electronic recording studio. He also worked at Dierks Studios, home to the recording of many Krautrock classics.
Robinson engineered albums by such obscuros as Baba Yaga, Dzyan, and Mythos, but also worked on releases by more well-known acts as Birth Control, Can, and Wallenstein. Robinson may also be familiar to some readers through his aliases Genius P. Orridge or The Mad Twiddler, who was responsible for a series of Unknown Deutschland compilations (The Krautrock Archive Volumes 1-3) on Virgin 20 years ago. Full length albums from most of the artists that appeared on these compilations were ultimately reissued on Psi-Fi. The disc at hand is a compilation of a compilation, effectively collecting together the remaining tracks from those compilations.
     Even Freeman hates The Astral Army’s ‘Interstellar Shortwave’, and it is not indicative of the rest of the comp, sounding like a punky Hawkwind or David Bowie on a night off. Julian Cope might also have assaulted us with something like this if he was felling particularly snarky. Spirulina’s ‘The Message’ is more like it – dreamy, dreary, druggy, delirious... Ten and a half minutes of floating bliss!
     Chronos’ ‘Schaudernacht’ bubbles along around incessant guitar lines that also have a punky strain running through them – sort of like something Dr. Frankenstein was cooking up in the lab. It has a pre-pogo beat that grows on you throughout its seven minutes of gurgling goodness, then eventually right-faces for some heartstopping pyrotechnics that generate the thrill of a speedchase at 200kmh...with no brakes!
     Neil Andersen’s ‘Feuerwerk’ is a nebulous, glissando of cascading guitars and spacey fx, like a warm waterfall pouring down your aching body, and he is also represented with his band Fuerrote in the epic ‘Ganz Wie Du Willst’, a 14-minute, electronic test pattern drone that rewards listeners who hang around long enough for the other shoe to drop – something starts to “happen” about halfway through when the three (!) guitarists, including the aforementioned Robinson, start to dabble in some elaborately tricky Frippertronics and a “song” eventually develops out of the medicated goo. 
     Elsewhere, Baal ramble their way through a drunken, stoned (or both) rendition of the ‘No God/Astaroth’ medley – mostly nonsensical Zappaesque incantations with Ya Ho Wa 13-styled backing, and Ten To Zen wrap up your hourlong trip with ‘Innerst’, a navel-gazing introspective collection of synthy swashes to wash over you as you commune with your innermost thoughts – the title translates roughly as “innermost”. You’ll literally catch a buzz from the buzzing synths, theremin-like whistles, and warbly outerspace sounds!

- Jeff Penczak
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