A master at comprehensive musical overviews and the thoughtful unpacking of brilliant sounds, writer Sasha Frere-Jones recently focused his attention on German music of the 1960s and ‘70s. It was penned for the tasteful recommendation site Shfl.com, which has gradually become home to a bevy of great music writing.
Frere-Jones highlighted 68 albums from the world of so-called Krautrock, and the result is a comprehensive primer on a remarkable moment in musical time:
Most of the musicians in Dusseldorf, Berlin, and Cologne hovering around rock in the early Seventies played together and knew each other. This was a small, familiar scene, like the early days of New York rap or the people who played CBGBs in the Seventies. It took bravery and smarts to make something from nothing without a support network. That’s one reason early community eruptions of a style or practice are often intense and rich: musicians were not doing something because other people were.
The writer rightly beams in on Kraftwerk and Can as the two most visionary and enduring of the bunch, but he mines the depths of the genre to recommend a bunch of lesser-known records. It’s the essayist at his best. After a hiatus prompted by his whirlwind adventures in Los Angeles, the Frere-Jones, best known for his work for the New Yorker, has successfully returned the focus to his oft-brilliant writings on music, esoterica, art, and the intertwining thereof.
Frere-Jones: “A one-off triumph by some Hungarians living in Dusseldorf, Edge of Time is gently bananas, a perfect pastiche of 1970 Pink Floyd. This is a perfect kosmic kraut record, in that it is fundamentally structurally relaxed while also being very carefully assembled and smart about its loopy tendencies.”
Peter Michael Hamel – Hamel
Frere-Jones: “Man o man does this one deserve a bigger spot in the bugged out firmament. Hamel is a keyboardist who decided not just to go it alone but also to leave it alone. Much of this album is one or two instruments—mostly organ—and tons of space and silence.”
Cosmic Jokers – Galactic Supermarket
Frere-Jones: “An actual cosmic swirl and a sort of benchmark of non-reggae dub?”
Achim Reichel & Machines – Echo
Frere-Jones: “People love the kraut and kosmische axis because of albums like Echo, where a single walk takes you through a bunch of locations, some entirely improbable but all of them welcoming.”
Harmonia – Deluxe
“Frere-Jones: Actual drums (from Mani Neumeier of Guru Guru)! Actual bass (mostly Rother)! It sounded like the gang was going for the big time, rather than breaking up entirely, which is what they did.”