Unique and Timeless
I have to admit that now Faust are, probably, no longer a touring band I must rely solely on their studio recordings to feed a habit formed in the early 1970s. Their sound may have mutated from the early days to the vast, churning soundscapes of their live work such as 'Edinburgh 1997' and 'Faust Wakes Nosferatu'. What it retains however is its uniqueness. There is no other sound like the one they make. So the releases keep coming. This year has seen the 'Ravvivando' remixes aka 'Freispiel' and now something that, at first, looks like a long overdue successor to 'The Faust Tapes'. Very different to the remixes.
Here are ghostly fragments from the Wumme school house where this bunch of anonymous, driven musicians gathered. It is then mixed with shreds of their short sojourn at Virgin and, in some cases, snippets of more recent recording adventures. The cd is what the title suggests and it is all knit together in a fairly seamless and Faustian way. So, a disembodied piano collides with speeded up bells as someone operates a small industrial implement and those curiously mid-Atlantic voices once again chant 'It's a rainy day, sunshine girl'. They revisit the glorious sonic grinding of 'Krautrock' in the edit version of 'A Seventies Event' and follow it up with a slab of krautrock for the 21st century, 'Nervous'. It is a manic thrash for speeding pogo moshers and reminds me why their combination of guitar/organ/drums never sounded like anyone else. A piece of pure electric energy with punk vocal attitude. And these guys are no longer spring chickens. Its date is 2001 but it could have come, in part, from 1971-4.
Out of the glare of their electric thrashings comes the two chord acoustic guitar of 'Duo'. It doesn't go anywhere or lead into a song. It simply is. That's it. A 'Faust Tapes' moment that then drifts into a concentrated slice of spoof jazz, veering from echoing lounge piano stylings to free jazz trumpet and still only lasts 2.22 minutes. And when they call a track 'Drone Organ' you can be pretty sure that's what it will be but at one moment it sounds like fifty organs in a dark underground space then it swirls off into some other space entirely. I don't know how Hans-Joachim Irmler does it either but I'm grateful that he does. He features in a more ethereal mode too on 'Elegie'.
One of my favourite moments from 'The Faust Tapes' was the bit that is generally known as 'Stretch Out Time', here it becomes just 'Stretch Out' and apart from those Germanic-Atlantic vocals there is tantalisingly brief outburst of Gunter Wustoff's sinewy sax. There is simply not enough of it on record. I had to go back to 'Giggy Smile' for an extra helping.
So, at times it may sound like a series of eerie nods back through three decades to their first assaults on anyone within listening distance but it is also a more considered collage that continues a line of experiment and develops it. They may have inspired others to follow but in their own strange and timeless way they do it best themselves.
Now, of course, Faust can usually be found recording on their own Klangbad label. And they are not the only ones. 'First Steps' is a sampler which features artists who have gathered to record a variety of left field, often equally unique, music. They are not simply Faust-alikes. In fact none of these bands sound much like their godfathers. Could you imagine them allowing that to happen anyway ? Not, perhaps, unless it was some sort of ironic statement.
These artists share a label but have their own identities. Dalek, for example are a trio featuring a rapper of the same name and some turntable manipulation. It is an angry relentless sound but very much shaped by a song structure not the free industrial noises of Faust. More delicately, S/T create post Kraftwerk melodies with tinkling keyboards and distant deadpan vocals while Audiac dabble in some the vacant territory created by the silence of Portishead. It is not as disturbing perhaps but the use of strings and Hammond organ creates an unsettling atmosphere. A sense of alienation prevails.
There are some unusual sounds here but perhaps the oddest combination comes from Ole Lukkeye, a band from St Petersburg. At first I thought they'd been mixing influences from India and somewhere vaguely Nordic. Not easy to categorise but very trance-like with chanting, drones, bells and percussion blended with what must be a brass or wind instrument. They have a very passionate sounding singer too though I've no idea what he is being passionate about. Does it matter ? It sounds great. And so do Circle, who, in parts, do reveal some Faustian influence in their use of relentless drumming and swathes of guitar noise that boil and shriek then fade away. Space rock rather than krautrock, maybe. They also utilise some gentler atmospheric acoustic guitar on 'Northern Sky' And apparently they sing in an artificial language too but not on these two tracks.
Finally, solo Faust man, Irmler, and the whole band contribute a piece each. The keyboard man constructs a dark suspension of sound, at once liquid and brittle, that swells and ebbs. It is an identifiable sound, a portion amputated from the collective Faust sound, and is part of a solo project. The whole band hammer into 'I Can, U 2?' with more of their trademark maniac drumming dominating that mesh of industrial thrash. There are sketches of keyboard and what sounds like Michael Stoll's scraped acoustic bass but, as ever, the whole matters more than the parts and it is an exciting example of their open-ended approach to musical construction.
What I like about these two albums is the sense of musical diversity and, in the case of Faust particularly, a stubborn drive to do it their way and see if the listening world catches on and keeps up.
© 2002 PAUL DONNELLY