Gronland Records / Vital:PIAS Digital, 1972
Neu are the current stop in my journey through the crudely-named genre of Krautrock. This first album by the duo of Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger, previously of Kraftwerk, alternates hypnotic full-band grooves with tossed-off avant-garde experiments. The highlight is those grooves, which they do with just as much style as their compatriots Can. "Hallogallo" is typical of the perpetual-motion trance style that comes to mind when describing Krautrock. No grand gestures to hit you in the face, just a subtle web of melodic fragments on squirming guitars, tossed off over a quietly stubborn drum beat and bassline. Imagine Ravel's "Bolero" in a rock idiom, with a double-speed beat and no unsubtle climax.
On the next important track "Weissensee", the pace slows right down. The lazy beat and octave bassline are straight out of early Pink Floyd, post-Syd. It's a shame that this fades out too soon, without developing the ideas some more. But I'm probably too used to Floyd, who would develop those bluesy guitar licks into extended solos, while Neu were more about subtle repetition of small fragments. At the other end of the energy scale is "Negativland". Here they seriously dirty it up with sheets of yowling distorted guitars, while a spiky bassline constantly pulses away. Krautrock bands are often cited as influential on a variety of future genres - and this track is pure post-punk.
The remaining three tracks are ambient and found-sound experiments. They're not remarkable in themselves , but they work well as interludes to maintain the tension. Fellow Germans Tangerine Dream were better at building these kind of sounds into full pieces. "Sonderangebot" is a meandering noise piece reminiscent of Pink Floyd's "Ummagumma" period. "Im Glueck" is more of the same, but apparently underwater, with an echo of the previous track's melody floating above the surface. The strangest of them is "Lieber Honig", where a camp wordless voice burbles asthmatically over a one fingered guitar noodle.
I sometimes feel I'm listening to them academically, for my education in musical history. And Neu's stubborn repetition can indeed seem dry and detached at first. But with a bit of patience it becomes more friendly. At least the pulse of "Hallogallo" can hypnotize and the screeches of "Negativland" can enthrall.
April 1, 2006