According to the liner notes in the 2004 reissue, the music on this album was recorded in 1971-72 for a label that refused to release it. Too lengthy, too interested in “ethno-fusion”. Record companies are stupid sometimes. Christian Burchard, the drummer, sold the tapes to a little label called Brain Records and they released it soon after. Now it’s regarded by many as a canonical Krautrock classic.
Krautrock’s psychedelic Teutonic trance is one of the most insular genres in music geekery, and while NEU! 75 is one of my favorite albums, and I like Can, Faust, Amon Duul II and Kraftwerk, so far I’ve really only scratched this genre’s surface. There is, thankfully, a contingent of record hounds that focuses deeply on narrow avenues like this, tracking down positively everything, and I’m glad they’re around to dig through the mountains of forgotten recordings, sorting chaff from wheat and boiling it down to a Beginner’s Guide. (It must be a full-time job –becoming a leading expert on Afrobeat or Chicago House or something. I’ve often wondered how these specialists find time for variety.)
So I’ve been told that beyond the aforementioned staples, Embryo is the place to start digging deeper. Curiously, this album (reputed as one of their best) is a bit afield from what I imagine as “Krautrock”. The Motorik rhythms you expect are supplanted and augmented by tricky, spastic drumming (including hand-drums) and the bass is fluid and always moving. Embryo are remarkably funky - I’d be shocked if I found out no one has ever sampled the first fifteen seconds of “Call”.
Embryo despised commercialism and embraced expert musicianship and spontaneity, relying on first takes, few (if any) overdubs and a frequently-changing line-up. Listening to Steig Aus, the spontaneity is obvious. After the pretty into (complete with a sample from Moroccan radio), “Orient Express” has all the wah-guitars and a rubbery bass and chugging organ you’d expect from a good old fashioned jam session. I hate the phrase “jam session” because it makes me think of stoned white guys playing blues licks for a tedious eternity (followed around the country, no doubt, by admirers in vans adorned with tie-dye teddy bears). Embryo doesn’t sink too deeply into that “crunchy groove, mahhhhhn” quagmire, thanks to their chops and ability to listen to each other, but this track still isn’t particularly dynamic. Everyone just kind of freaks out.
“Dreaming Girls is a big step up; moodier, more spacious. The music breathes and builds. For me, though, the album’s highlights are the complex drums-and-marimba section and Edgar Hoffman’s ensuing violin terror in the closing “Call”.
Percussion instruments and rhythms picked up on the bands travels through Africa are sprinkled in, tantalizing, but are never pursued as much I would like. There are little percussion breakdowns here that could go on and on and I wouldn’t complain. Maybe I’m a sucker for drums. I’d just rather hear rattling layers of percussion than rocking-out organ, but that’s just me.
The three tracks here are sequenced to give you a sense of wandering farther and farther away from home. I like that. I don’t know if this will satiate your Krautrock cravings, exactly, depending on what you expect, but it’s an enjoyable release from musicians who are obviously very talented.