Tag Archive | Only Human review

Amon Duul Reviews Part Sixteen: Amon Duul II’s “Bee as Such”

Unfortunately, “Bee as Such” has no album cover. Here’s an impossible cute cartoon bee to make up for it!

1) Mambo La Libertad; 2) Du Kommst Ins Heim; 3) Still Standing; 4) Psychedelic Suite.

5 out of 10

Just when you thought it was safe to ignore “Amon Duul II”; after a further 14 years had passed, the band finally re-emerges to make a new musical statement. The band is back to four of the most important members (Renate, Karrer, Meid and even Weinzierl this time) and they are ready to prove they still have it. The band released a press release that stated they were ready to go “back to the roots – not in the past, but essentially – seeking the news sounds…of the new millennium.” So, does this band of nearly 60 year olds touch on the new sound of the millennium?

What do you think? Look at the rating: the band utterly fails in their goal. They fall flat on their face, completely embarrassing themselves after the success of “Nada Moonshine #.” It’s sad that this must be considered their swansong instead of that superior album.

A brief bit of background on the album: after releasing “Nada Moonshine #” many band members almost immediately disowned it. Although they played many of the tracks live (as illustrated on “Live at Tokyo” an album I’ve never heard) they simply didn’t believe in the material for some reason. So, after the two sound collage albums in 96 they went their separate ways.

However, late in the 2000’s the band got bit by the nostalgia bug. They started playing together again and even got John Wienzierl to come back. They quickly recorded this album and self released it online. There are no physical copies of this album: it’s a completely mp3 based album. There isn’t even any official album art.

And then the band penned their pretentious press release. It’s hard to get over this release as it’s impossible to reconcile the difference between the album and the difference between what the band publicly stated they were trying to achieve.

The part I quoted above is simply the tip of the iceberg. “This sound painting,” the release continues, “is one more of our unique works, containing the spirit of our time.” What time? Do they mean the late 2000’s? Or do they mean “their” time i.e. the early-to-mid-70’s? Because the latter makes more sense.

This album has nothing to do with the 2000’s. It’s simply an extension of the early, jam based methodology of their earliest albums. For many fans this will be a cause for rejoicing. “Finally!” they say, clutching their tattered, tear covered remains of ‘Tanz Der Lemming,’ “the band is back to jamming and improvising in a wild and exciting way! They quit their 40 year sell out streak and are back to what they do best!”

And yes, the band was definitely best at pure jamming. As enjoyable and as essential as those mid-70’s song-based albums are they aren’t as unique or innovative or effective as their pure jam based albums. Surely, the band must touch on some of the magic they had in the old days, even if on accident.

Honestly, I can say quite sadly, the band doesn’t touch even a quarter of the magic they had in the old days. They don’t even have a tenth of it. Because this isn’t really the same band. Yes, the basic quartet is in place, but Falk Rogner is out of the picture. In fact, there isn’t even a real keyboard player in the band at this point: only Wienzierl is credited with playing a little synthesizer

As much as I respect Wienzierl, Carrer and Meid as instrumentalists (and I really do) they simply don’t really cook up much fire on this album. The lack of keyboards creates a thinner sound that the guitarists simply don’t fill. While earlier albums often sounded like a wild beast rampaging throughout the land, tearing down walls and destroying your sanity, this album simply sounds like a band jamming.

Put it another way: these jams do not create moods. Past jams all had a moody texture or purpose to them that helped elevate them above the average “let’s jam, dude” methodology that many bands had at the time. Yes, Wienzierl, Carrer and Meid are ultra professional in their jamming. But they aren’t virtuosos. You can’t simply let the sonic waves of demonic jam power wash over you like you can with “Can.”

“Amon Duul II” never had the raw chops to carry the listener over based on pure jamming in their prime. What chance do they have 40 years later? None basically. These tracks have the value of “bonus tracks” that you might seen tagged onto the end of a remastered, rereleased CD. They sound like warm ups or rehearsals most of the time.

I wouldn’t be so offended by the album if the band wasn’t so pretentious about it: they didn’t act like they were breaking ground with the much-wilder-and-more-in-tune-with-the-times “Kobe Reconstructions/Flashback” albums.

Are they really that deluded that they think they’re breaking new ground? If so, that’s sad. And it actually costs the album a point in the rating. Does that seem unfair? Hardly: I call this the “Elder” syndrome.

This syndrome, named after Kiss’ “Music from the Elder” album comes when a band pretentiously tries to bite off more than they can chew. They over-estimate their abilities and strengths as a band and fall completely flat on their face trying to be “deep” “original” and “innovative.”

As background music, it works just fine. Wash your dishes to it and you may even give it an extra star or two. At their best, this band was much more than background listening. But the band is getting old and there is no way they are at their best. Making passable background music for fans is not a bad past time for an elder band.

But the band didn’t present it as background music: they presented it as new, groundbreaking music. They presented it as something that could fully compete with their past accomplishments. They want to present themselves as if they are at their best. And argue about this all you want, but I believe that intention and presentation are vital parts to consider about an album.

For example, after ten years of disappointing, “serious minded” albums by Bob Dylan that completely failed in their task, fans and critics reacted positively to the slight, non-serious intended pair of folk cover albums he pressed in the late 80’s. It was the kind of album Dylan could toss of in his sleep but fans and critics loved them.

This is because they knew that Bob wasn’t making a serious statement: he was just having some fun after a long string of failures. He wasn’t at his best, knew it and did a goof off. He never presented those albums as if they were competitive with his best work. And they were great

“Amon Duul II” was obviously just having fun when they recorded this album. But they try to present it as a serious statement. One of the biggest mistakes of their career and one which taints the end of their career slightly. Speaking of “tainting careers” my “Amon Duul UK” reviews are next.

Amon Duul Reviews Part Fifteen: Nada Moonshine # and More

Nada Moonshine # Album Cover

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.

8 out of 10

All great bands (except for ABBA and the Beatles (and well, countless others (this sentence has been rendered moot by these parentheticals but I’m going to finish it anyways (so there)))) eventually reunite: and so it was, 14 years after their last, rather dull attempt at an album, the “original” line-up of “Amon Duul II” (with no Weinzierl who was off doing who knows what at this time) gets together to show the world they still have it nearly 30 years after their debut and 20 years after their last great album.

Apologies for the lengthy sentence: I was briefly possessed by the spirit of William Faulkner and William Burroughs at the same time. Faulkner was wasted and feebly rejecting the advances of a stoned out of his gourd Burroughs. Faulkner didn’t give in, thankfully, or I’d have an odd literary creature growing in my head: a combination of Faulkner and Burroughs that I could only call: William Burroughs. Or wait no, I’m sorry: William Faulkner.

Whoa whoa whoa, time out. Okay, no more of that. I’m sorry for the brief moments of insanity there but it’s hard not to get a bit goofed out when listening to an album like this: any kind of reunion album creates a feeling of foreboding in my mind. Does the band still have it? Can they create an album that stays true to their past but pushes the boundaries forward and which stays current and imaginative?

Most people can’t: “Amon Duul II” basically do. No, the album isn’t perfect but it is a shockingly good return to form from a band that basically nobody cared about anymore. Yes, this album came and went without leaving even a small ripple in the listening world: the only person I’ve ever seen discuss this album is George Starostin. You can’t even read a review at Allmusic but that doesn’t stop them from rating it. Idiots.

So, what does the band achieve on this album? Its simple on paper but complex in execution: the band combines their classic style with a more synthesized, highly studio based production style. And when I say their “old styles” I mean the “everything happening at once” approach of “Yeti” with the more streamlined songwriting styles of their mid-70’s albums.

Basically, a song will start out with a simple idea. Sometimes guitar based but more often synthesizer or keyboard based. The band will then begin layering sounds on top of it, including more synthesizers, guitars, Renate-wailings and vivid soundscapes. Drum machines may jump in and techno rhythms may appear. Basically, it often feels like the band is jumping on that mid-90’s techno band wagon.

However, the band doesn’t let this new sound define who they are or become too repetitive. Songs usually switch sounds quickly (and these are long songs for the most part) building up to new ideas, including operatic arias, faster techno drum beats, wild guitar passages, rhythmic attacks and wild echoing sound effect panoramas.

If the album sounds wild it is: it can be overwhelming to listen to at times. The band doesn’t really let up for a second on the album and is seemingly having as much fun in the studio as they have ever had, if not more. As a result, there isn’t much breathing room on the album: every spare second is stuffed with sound effects, guitars, synthesizers, thick bass lines, wild vocalizing, sampled loops, odd string sections and more.

And this is one reason why the album gets an eight. As impressive of an accomplishment as the album is, technically, it becomes very wearing to listen to for long periods of time. And although there are only 10 songs, this album stretches out to nearly an hour long, if not longer (forgive me if I don’t know the exact running time off the top of my head).

Another reason the album doesn’t get top marks is that the songs start to all sound the same. Yes, there are major differences in the songs but I couldn’t really tell you what they are right now. The arrangements and approaches don’t change drastically between songs, even though the styles and genres tackled often do change (the eternal curse of “Amon Duul II”). This contributes to the feeling of boredom that rears its ugly head by the close of the album.

Lastly, the band isn’t really pushing boundaries that haven’t been pushed before. They are now simply followers instead of leaders. Yes, one cannot hold that against the band as they were getting pretty old by this point in their career. But it hurts parts of the album, especially the ending techno beats of “Lilac Lillies” which really detract from the quality of the song. They are so generic that its sad to see this rampaging, all encompassing beats of a band stoop to that level.

With all those complaints voiced, I can still give this album an easy 8 out of 10 for the balls and talent it took to put it together. While it may not be innovative, it does sound different from all those mid-90’s techno-influenced albums because it is written and recorded by a band of former mad-men-and-women who were literally anarchists at one point in their career. And this wild, careening album reflects that anarchistic spirit perfectly.

BONUS REVIEWS

Kobe Reconstructions

Kobe Reconstructions Album Cover.

Eternal Flashback

 

Eternal Flashback Album Cover.

5 out of 10 each

Although this was the only album of new material released by the band in the 90’s, they did release two albums of “sound collage” material in 1996. These albums, “Kobe Reconstructions” and “Flashback” were limited release albums released for a singular purpose: “Kobe Reconstructions” was released to raise funds for Kobe, Japan after a hurricane struck while “Flashback” was a gift to members of the “Amon Duul II” fan club.

I’m reviewing both of these albums simultaneously because they sound identical. The band basically took songs from their past albums and used a sampler to reconstruct them into wild sound collages. And instead of separating the albums into individual tracks, they made them all one track.

And the albums basically suck as listening experiences. I love sound collages as much if not more than the average man (my first three albums were nothing but sound collages) but the band doesn’t show a lot of imagination in this style. A great sound collage would feature jarring, yet musical, contrasts and interesting combinations of material.

Instead, these albums often feature a basic guitar line (sometimes from “Amon Duul I”!!!!) repeated over and over for what seems like an eternity. And then they layer a few basic parts over top and let these repeat endlessly. And the albums do feel endless, as they drone on and on for what seems like an eternity.

I can’t really be too hard on the albums though: both were released for nice, charitable purposes and were designed to appeal to hardcore “Amon Duul II” fans (something I am not). Plus, it’s cool to see the band try something new and stretch out their creativity in new directions. Sure, they fail but its better to fail at something new than to fail at something old. Five stars in admiration and under the condition I never have to listen to these albums again.

Amon Duul Reviews Part Fourteen: Amon Duul II’s “Vortex”

Vortex Album Cover.

1) Vortex; 2) Holy West; 3) Die 7 Fetten Jahre; 4) Wings Of The Wind; 5) Mona; 6) We Are Machine; 7) Das Ges­tern Ist Das Heute Von Morgen; 8) Vibes In The Air.

6 out of 10

A relative rebound. Kind of. Three years after the shattered, tattered remains of the once mighty “Amon Duul II” were promptly buried, never to be unearthed, the original band rose again, one year to each day, resurrected to conquer the world again and to prove that Love really does conquer all.

Or not. Look, that last paragraph may have been needlessly poetic but I want the reader to understand how neat this album could and should have been. Most of the original band members make appearances, including Renate, original organist Falk Rogner (who I’ve always neglected to mention, shame considering his keyboard work helped create a lot of great atmosphere) with John Weinzierl playing a little guitar and Lothar Meid back on a “little” bit of bass.

So with the original band (kind of, at points) back together, it was time to cut the shit. All attempts to streamline and “sell out” have been removed from the band’s vocabulary. No more bland shit like “Only Human” or “Almost Alive” to ruin the band’s reputation. Nope, the band was ready to get back to a denser sound with a more atmospheric feel. Darkness should over take the listener, much like they are being sucked up by the slightly-ridiculous-yet-still-ominious image on the front cover.

But the band more or less blows it: sure, it’s an improvement over the last two records, but it’s basically of the same quality as “Pyragony X.” It is noble that the band would try to come back and regain some of their lost ground. But it’s really their own fault that the album really doesn’t work.

One problem is that most of the major band members really only make guest appearances. Weinzierl and Meid really only guest briefly throughout the album. Jorg Evers plays guitar and he simply doesn’t have the same skill or inventiveness of Weinzierl. Meid does almost no songwriting, simply sticking to bass. This is a major problem, as it was his clever song-writing ideas that kept the band afloat for the three years after they abandoned complete jamming.

Another major problem is the “instrumentation situation.” The album is an official “80’s Album” as it features drum machines, synthesizers and other machines of that ilk. However, the inclusion of these instruments wasn’t necessarily a bad thing in the early 80’s. Remember, it was the era of “Peter Gabriel III” and other creepy, crawlie creative synth albums. Even Genesis’s “Abacab,” while ostensibly pop, had great tones and many creative ideas.

Put it this way: the album sounds more like “Peter Gabriel III” and less like “No Jacket Required.” The band is definitely working their asses off to create an oppressive atmosphere that can crush the listener. They really want to make a heavy return to creative darkness. As a result, the synthesizers croak out unpleasant tones that are not generic. The drum machine stutter and strut, much like Gabriel’s classic programming.

But the album still gets a pretty low rating. Honestly, it’s no better than and sometimes worse than “Pyragony X.” It’s close to being better because the general sound is a bit more interesting than the completely pedestrian and nearly generic sound of “Pyragony X.” It’s closer to being worse because the band fails at their goals here worse than on that unfortunate album.

Basically, the band is trying to be scary and oppressive but they really don’t succeed at achieving that goal. Yes, the songs are dense, heavily arranged and gloomy. But instead of being impressive, they simply stand there and brood. For all the band’s hard work, they are simply doing another make-up job on a rotting corpse of a sow.

It may be worse than “Pyragony X” because at least that album had actual songs. Sure, they were pretty unmemorable and unengaging but they had structure, melodies and diverse arrangements. Here, everything mulls together into a lump with no real melodic strength. Honestly, it feels like the band is trying to make the arrangements into songs themselves. This is an approach which never truly works: it may fool the band’s desperate fans into thinking “they’re back!” but it leaves an album that a) won’t appeal to casual fans and b) won’t even hold up for fans, unless they’re completely self deceiving.

I haven’t even described the tracks yet have I? Well, “Holy West” certainly sounds impressive at first with its wave of synthesizer atmosphere. However, the melody of the song is painfully simple. It also hits no real emotion or meaning. It’s simply there. And the band never develops the melody or the atmosphere they have created. It simply broods there, glowering at you immovably,

Fans of “Kraftwerk” may be excited (or pissed) to see a song called “We Are Machine.” Don’t worry: “Kraftwerk “has nothing to worry about. Why the band tried this approach is beyond me. They were never good at repetitive music ideas. Whereas “Kraftwerk” succeeds by making their repetitive ideas catchy and by adding slight variations, “Amon Duul II” simply pounds a simple idea, throws in simplistic “machine” lyrics and calls it a day.

Going into detail here isn’t exactly necessary. So, why does this album get such a (relatively) high rating when compared to the previous two albums? In spite of the fact that it fails, it shows a band that is trying to do something creative and new. They’re obviously working hard to be new and exciting. They are trying to integrate New Wave ideas and are at least integrating them semi-intelligently.

Simply put: the band is trying to be good. They’re failing, but at least they’re trying. The last two albums featured a band trying but they were trying to sell albums without having the ability to write music that a mainstream audience would want to buy.

Plus, if you’ve never heard much of this style of music, it might be effective. Or if you buy into the mood and atmosphere the band is trying to set (I don’t) it could probably be much more effective. No more than a six worth of effectiveness but much better than the 5 I wanted to give the album.

The band must have seen the writing on the wall though. They split again, this time to stay away for 14 years. However, they’d come back with a strong album, their best in 20 year and which shows a band more successfully navigating unknown waters. Stay tuned.

Amon Duul Reviews Part Thirteen: Amon Duul II’s “Only Human”

Only Human Album Cover.

1) Another Morning; 2) Don’t Turn To Stone; 3) Kirk Morgan; 4) Spaniards And Spacemen; 5) Kismet; 6) Pharao; 7) Ruby Lane.

2 out of 10

As if “Almost Alive” wasn’t embarrassing enough, the band had to make one last stab at commercial relevancy with this 1978 album. Of course, it was artistically, critically and commercially a complete failure. But it did serve a useful purpose: it helped put an end to this ailing band, which had gone from one of the best of the 70’s into one of the most bland and useless.

But what band is this? Is this the same band that recorded “”Phallus Dei” in 1969? Of course not: the only original member was Chris Karrer, never the most prolific of the band’s songwriters. So the rest of the band continues to provide most of the musical content, coming up intensely short once again.

It’s not as if the band didn’t try. They throw in some funkiness, ala “Another Morning.” Spanish motifs are expanded upon at some length, as are middle Eastern styles and even disco. The band also attempts softer and harder rock styles. The band even infuses them with the same type of “arty” arrangements they had attempted on past albums.

One would think with all this work to create an exciting, diverse and rich sonic atmosphere would not have gone to such a complete waste. But the arrangements here simply don’t work. It is, once again, a pig in lipstick situation. The songs are completely unmemorable, non-catchy and borderline completely poorly written. “Another Morning” sounds like the band wanted to be ABBA. But ABBA only worked because they had genius composers: nobody in this band is a genius.

The arrangements also stay stuck in a rather frustratingly early 70’s art rock style that is completely out of place in the era of punk. For God’s sake, the Ramones had been out almost two years by this point! Post punk and new wave bands were already using synthesizers in new and startling ways. The band did wisely avoid trying to adapt to these styles but simply fail in their old styles over and over again.

Basically, the band simply comes up completely short on material that is worth hearing. The album isn’t terrifying to listen to (no THRAKATTAK or Metal Machine Music dissonance here). But it goes in one ear and out the other. If the band was writing good material, catchy, memorable songs their slight “outdatedness” would be compensated by great songs. But the band couldn’t adapt to the time and couldn’t even represent their own time well.

“Only Human” indeed. Only too good the band broke up at this point. Their story doesn’t end here though: poorly thought out reunions await us in the next few reviews.

PS Sorry this album is so short but there’s only so many ways you can write “the songs suck and the band is completely out of date” without repeating yourself. And I insist, an album that is simply one of the blandest albums ever (NOTHING stands out) doesn’t deserve a truly in depth, mocking review.