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Alog, "Amateur"

cover image Espen Sommer Eide and Dag-Are Haugan return as Alog for yet another fantastic album. They further refine their symbiosis of natural and electronic sounds, always sounding at once earthy and cosmic. Never utilizing weird sounds just for the sake of it, the dozen tracks on this CD are all pieces of music that sound more than beautiful. As expected from Alog, this is a remarkable album that reveals more and more with each listen.

 

Rune Grammofon

What I enjoy most about Amateur (and this applies to pretty much all the other albums put out by Rune Grammofon) is the attention to detail in terms of sounds and sound treatments. Eide and Haugan are not afraid to leave a sound as it is if it has the right character or to tweak it if it needs a little help fitting in with the rest of the sounds. Although I must admit, sometimes it is hard to tell what has been treated in the studio and what is a "real life" sound as there are so many unusual instruments used on and built for the album. Not only that but Alog approach voices from an interesting perspective, the vocal layering of "Write Your Thoughts in Water" sound like a living church organ (and from what I can tell, there no little digital trickery going on here).

Amateur has a dreamy, meandering feel to it. Many of the pieces (especially the aptly named "The Learning Curve") begin with random sounding noises, like the recording has started while the two musicians are trying to figure out what instruments they are playing. However, as if by magic, it all comes together to form a delicate and captivating whole. A good example of this is "The Future of Norwegian Wood," which for the first half of the piece is a cut up of the sound of nails been hammered into wood which makes for interesting listening on its own. When the treated piano comes in over this unusual percussion, the effect is startling and gorgeous.

Most of the album is fairly laid back but Eide and Haugan can bring the music to the boil when they want to, the powerful staccato of "The Beginner" and the middle part of the lengthy "Bedlam Emblem." While Amateur is far from a boring album, it would have been nice to have one or two more livelier pieces on it but that might be entering the realms of greed. As it stands it is a cracker of an album, a logical and fitting continuation of Alog's journey through sound.

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Aranos

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Review of the Day

hirsche nicht aufs sofa (reissues part one)
Dom Elchklang
Something happened first when in Aachen, Germany, in the year 1886, in the shadow of Aachen Cathedral (aka the Dom!), one of the most legendary Gothic pilgrimage churches, Mies van der Rohe, modern architecture's wunderkind, was born. Almost a century later, the next generation of Aachen art royalty was birthed through the collaboration of Christoph Heemann and Achim P. Li Khan. In the shadows itself, of the Dom's pointed arches and Miesian glass-box skyscrapers, Heeman and Khan's Hirsche Nicht Aufs Sofa was a group on the cusp of contemporary experimentation and one possessing, in equal bounty, an almost Gothic, grotesque quality. This rare hybrid, present also in the likes of Nurse With Wound (to which H.N.A.S. is often compared), produced music that effortlessly resists sounding "dated," and is in many cases some of the best likely to be heard. The Dom Elchklang and G. Gonge labels are set to reissue a brand new batch of H.N.A.S. (and related) recordings. These first five, however, are considered by many to be the group's "classic" albums.

Abwassermusik of 1985 was the first H.N.A.S. LP and was culled from the duo's earlier cassette works. Credited to H.N.A.S. and Mieses Gegonge, the record is the most raw of these first five, relying heavily on the manipulated loops and cut-ups that ground the H.N.A.S. sound, and less on the unique instrumentation that dominates the next three records. A rudimentary industrial sound carries over most tracks, but here elements of kraut-rock and tinges of surrealism do emerge. The album's long centerpiece recalls Throbbing Gristle at first, though evolves into a chorus of tribal drums, chirps, and theremin flourishes. As on most all of these Dom reissues, an album's length of bonus tracks has been added here, most very early, very sparse tape works. Exceptions and highlights include a pummeling live track from Mieses Gegonge, sounding something like 50 drug-addled Faust-ians grooving in the bottom of a lake, and the first H.N.A.S. vinyl release, an early showcase for Heemann's elegant drones.


Melchior, released by United Dairies and featuring Steven Stapleton and wife Diana Rogerson, is the first in the great trilogy of early H.N.A.S. albums. The increased influence of surrealism is notable from the start in a brilliant faux-lounge number complete with Rogerson's twisted croon. The record is indulgently theatrical in many places; humorous shouting bits and guitar flourishes fill the gaps between more overt kraut-rock borrowing (surprisingly Achim has said at the time the band "knew nothing about Faust, Neu! and all the OHR/Kraut bands...") and handclap-ful post punk jogs. The whole mess is beautifully paced with soothing guitar lines and Heemann's incomparable drones rescuing each moment of acid-headed confusion. Bonus tracks are mainly '85/'86 era H.N.A.S. tunes, including one of the first (and best) songs recorded by the Melchior line-up, a gnarled landscape of trumpet squeal and organ pulse with the spoken refrain, "Listen to the sun rise, hear the birds scream." Experimentation with a variety of unlikely instruments is at a high among these tracks, creating an atmosphere so difficult to place that it belongs solely to the ageless obscurity of the Dadaists.


Recorded around the same time as Melchior, Küttel Im Frost is often described as the most pop of H.N.A.S. records. According to Achim, its primary influence was early Chrome, but where it is at all similar, Küttel towers above its peers. Rogerson's vocals return, but they've gone from surreal chanteuse to psych screamer. The astounding title track marks a peak in kraut-rock similarity without giving an inch; it's quickly and artfully unclear how much of a mockery Küttel's mish-mash of raucous pop and noise-burst is supposed to be. Bonus tracks all come from H.N.A.S.' first of only two live appearances. The concert is an excellent addition to this disc as much of the performance comes from the Küttel album.


Im Schatten Der Möhre, the third of the truly amazing early H.N.A.S. works and the only one Heemann has felt necessary to reissue on his Streamline label, combines the tenuous, staged beauty of Melchior and the twisted jubilation of Küttel to glorious effect. More dense and cohesive than its predecessors, Im Schatten is also less humorous and more demanding. As such, the album could be the group's most substantial. Bonus tracks here continue on Im Schatten's more abstract bent, fore-grounding Heemann's future work in Mimir and Mirror. Most are compilation tracks or studio outtakes from the '89-'91 period, samples, tape loops, and guitar licks (courtesy of Heeman and brother Andreas Martin) have never been harder to peel apart or label.


The release that should be the least substantial, 1988's The Book of Deingenskirchen, comprised of the group's unaltered '86 - '88 studio leftovers, is oddly one of the most entertaining. Understandably more choppy and raw than Aberwassermusik, Book features a bare-bones industrial sound with elegant, even playful interludes and spoken female vocals throughout. Despite its being essentially a trash heap, Book is the most soothing of all early H.N.A.S.; comparable to falling in and out of sleep during an old German art film. The bonus material here is by far the most various, collecting obscure compilation tracks from '85 to '92. Bizarre Melchior-ian swing tunes line up next to driving kraut grooves, pseudo-surf tracks, alien drones and absurd found sounds, all effortlessly pieced together in the way only H.N.A.S. can, or would.

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