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Monday, June 3, 2013

NEU!, "NEU! '75"

"NEU! '75"
Brain (1975)

1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die + 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother split from Krautrock group Kraftwerk because they disagreed with the band's direction. So it only made sense that the resulting group, Neu!, would face similar issues after two albums (note: It will be extremely annoying reading "Neu!" because of the unusual placement of punctuation. I'm sorry but that's the band's name (note: Even more annoying to Americans is that "neu" is pronounced "noy" in German (note: I understand that parenthetical statements within parenthetical statements is also annoying. I'll stop now))). Rother preferred ambient, electronic-based music, whereas Dinger wanted to move toward rock. The album "Neu! '75" dedicates a side to both members' ideas, and realistically should be considered as two EPs versus one album.

As a rocker myself, I naturally prefer Dinger's side B, but Rother's portion deserves attention, especially if you can appreciate work from artists like Brian Eno. Nothing is programmed on side A except for some nature sound effects, but the performers operate like clockwork. Dinger's cowbell literally serves as a clock during "Leb' Wohl," and Rother's vocals rarely veer into emotion. The approach reflects Rother's background in Kraftwerk, a band that once professed the ultimate musical accomplishment would be designing a computer that could write its own music.

It might sounds boring, but there's plenty to praise in the discipline required to pull off songs like "Leb' Wohl." Rother designs music for listeners to see and hear, like when he simulates a tide with a synthesizer early in "Seeland," or when Dinger's woodblock percussion imitates a boat approaching shore during the same track, getting closer to the listener throughout. Of course, for someone with Dinger's ambitions, playing nothing but a cowbell for nine minutes might drive you to record something like side B.

Dinger, now playing guitar and singing, kicks off his half with a beauty. "Hero" operates on the plane of punk, proclaiming a literal eff-you message to just about everyone. The opening guitar licks sound natural and the aggressive kicks to a bass drum mark a new idea for Neu!. To be fair, Rother had no role within side B. Dinger's vocals, perhaps due to his German roots or to Iggy Pop's probable influence, are incomprehensible despite being in English.

Despite the break from Rother's mode operandi, Dinger still demonstrates loyalty to Krautrock. Most obvious is his use of phasing, the process by which a musician speeds up or slows down portions of a song during production (modern DJs use it to prevent lulls during repetitive tracks). Any time you hear a vague hum during the album, it's probably a case of phasing. Synthesizers remain and "Hero" ends on an odd note, with a minute of wind and bird calls. On the whole, Dinger demonstrates how the Krautrock formula could still rock.

Like I said, Dinger's side is more down my alley, but I enjoyed both sides of "Neu! '75." Even if one half doesn't spark your interest, there ought to be something promising on the other side.

INTERESTING FACT: The band's fourth album, "Neu! 4" was released in 1995 in response to the thriving bootleg market in Germany. The recordings were leftovers from 1986, and Dinger never actually told Rother that he was releasing the tracks. Unsurprisingly, the duo didn't make any more music together."

Hero by Neu! on Grooveshark

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