Michael Rother - Solo And Solo II Music Albums Reviews

Michael Rother - Solo Music Albums Reviews
The collected solo recordings from a veteran of three of krautrock’s fundamental groups—Kraftwerk, Neu!, and Harmonia—walk the line between mesmerizing riffs and wistful, cinematic gestures.

Before he’d turned 25, Michael Rother had played in three innovative groups—Kraftwerk, Neu!, and Harmonia. The guitarist became an avatar of what’s become known as krautrock, inspiring bands as disparate as Stereolab, Chrome, and Negativland with sounds ranging from beatific pastoralism to industrial clangor. Rother’s solo recordings from 1977 onward, which are enshrined in the Solo and Solo II boxed sets, haven’t been as world-shaking as those earlier forays into avant rock, but they reveal his ability to wring maximal emotion from minimal gestures in ways that seem quintessentially Northern European.

It’s fair to say that Rother discharged most of his best ideas with Neu! and Harmonia. In “Hallogallo,” the lead-off track from Neu!’s 1972 debut album, Rother and drummer Klaus Dinger drafted perhaps the most emulated krautrock blueprint: Dinger’s “Apache beat” chugging swiftly beneath Rother’s plaintive guitar wails and Dinger’s curt rhythm-guitar quacks, all contoured by producer Conny Plank for optimal aerodynamic glide. This was ultimate driving musik for the Autobahn of your imagination. You can hear the seeds of much of what’s collected on Solo in Neu! 75’s “Isi.” Its melody suggests grand vistas and tempered hope, its beats advancing with purposeful propulsion. But when an artist has dreamed up ideas as significant as those, falling short of them is no disgrace. On Solo’s collected recordings—Flammende Herzen, Sterntaler, Katzenmusik, Fernwärme, two previously unreleased soundtracks (Die Räuber and Houston), and a smattering of live recordings and remixes from the 21st century—Rother hones his trademark riff mesmerism, emphasizing beauty and placidity.

Flammende Herzen (1977)—featuring Can’s Jaki Liebezeit on drums and Plank on the console and Yamaha synth—reiterates Rother’s predilection for expansive song structures, cruise-control rhythms, and guitar tones that signify anguish and ecstasy. “Zyklodrom” and “Karussell” are exemplary; the latter’s melody is perhaps Rother’s most grandiose. No wonder it’s been covered by William Tyler, another master of big-sky guitarscapes. Another key track, “Feuerland,” was redone by Kompakt Records’ Justus Köhncke; you can hear the roots of ’90s German techno’s streamlined efficiency in the original’s purring sonorities and clipped 4/4 gait.

Sterntaler (1978), with Liebezeit and Plank again in tow, follows in the vein of Flammende Herzen. “Stromlinien” exemplifies Rother’s m.o. during this phase: majestic melodiousness propelled by fleet, locomotive beats. It becomes clearer on Sterntaler that Rother—as he’d shown in Harmonia, where his parts smoothly blended with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius’ synths—may be one of the least extravagant guitar heroes in rock, favoring artfully modulated squalls and muted spangles that exude modesty, even as they’re blanketing the firmament.

A 12-song love letter to felines, 1979’s Katzenmusik purveys a more interior sound, with faintly precious melodies and less emphasis on rhythm, although Liebezeit remains. Rother introduces eBow to his repertoire, which enables him to generate infinite sustain and evoke cat-like cries. Rother’s own cats recently had given birth to more kittens than he could handle, forcing him to give them away; any downhearted moments on the album might be traced to that feeling of loss.
Michael Rother - Solo II Music Albums Reviews
With Plank gone, Rother takes a slightly darker tone on 1982’s Fernwärme (the title means “warmth from a distance”). “Elfenbein,” written after the death of his uncle, detours into a mournful, gothic meditation that verges upon Bohren & der Club of Gore territory. Liebezeit’s ever steady beats undergird the guitarist’s pleasantly undulating peregrinations, the legends working with nonchalant precision. Fernwärme also contains Jim O’Rourke’s favorite Rother song, “Klangkörper,” which bears hints of the minimal, gaseous techno for which many Germans would become revered nearly two decades later.

Rother’s evocative instrumentals enabled him to make a natural transition to film scoring, as 2013’s The Robbers and 2012’s Houston prove. From the former, “Part 1” is an ideal specimen of panicky, vehicle-chase soundtracking. When not in quicksilver-propulsion mode, Robbers settles into an ice-blue orb of beautiful tentativeness, as exemplified by “Part 4.” The zenith of Houston occurs on “Part 5”; over a foundation of emotive static, Rother unleashes Doppler-effected guitar sighs, conjuring a sense of hope receding toward the vanishing point. One of the principal through lines of Solo is Rother’s ability to express overwhelming emotions with as few gestures as possible, and “Part 5” captures it beautifully, with a mesmerizing repetition of rigorously honed motifs.

Solo II collects Rother’s output from 1983’s Lust to 2020’s Dreaming, with additional bonus tracks from the ’90s. He mostly goes the one-man-band route, and the presence of his guitar gradually diminishes. This material bears only the faintest traces of Rother’s peak-’70s sound, which leads to a dilemma. On the one hand, we admire artists who avoid repeating themselves. On the other, we wish musicians wouldn’t abandon the qualities that endeared us to their work in the first place. But the main problem with Solo II? His ideas aren’t as galvanizing within this 37-year stretch.

On Lust the dominance of the Fairlight CMI synth lends the songs a candied timbre. Couple that with melodies redolent of movie-of-the-week schmaltz, and the result hews closer to OMD at their cutest than to the paradigm-shifting rock and electronic music that marked Neu! and Harmonia. “Palmengarten” epitomizes this approach with its meringue-light synth and pastel, pointillistic guitar pirouetting over pitter-pat drums. Lust’s anomalous standout is “Pulsar,” a polar meditation reminiscent of Michael Hoenig’s 1977 album Departure From the Northern Wasteland.

The pensive guitar intro to “Süssherz,” Süssherz und Tiefenschärfe’s opener, may make it hard to believe that this is the same musician who scorched earth with “Negativland.” Here, Rother is more interested in tugging your heartstrings than in blowing your mind. Thankfully, things improve with “Tiefenschärfe,” whose glittering keyboard fantasia foreshadows Spiritualized’s organ-drone symphonies, before shifting into a motorik rhythm that implies purposeful glide to an important rendezvous. Think of “Tiefenschärfe” as an update of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn.” At 13 minutes, it’s one of the grandest works in Rother’s ’80s canon. “Blaues Licht” ends the album with a frosty tone poem of exquisite poignancy—like Brian Eno’s Apollo at the North Pole.

The title of Traumreisen translates as “dream trips”; if only these weren’t such tepid journeys. While “Reiselust” barges in with the aggressive, thunky beats of a new-wave club hit, the tune bears a tinny urgency. Rother’s guitar tone has lost its edge, dissolving into anodyne sheen and modest prettiness, with outsized demonstrations of melodrama marring several tracks. Redemption comes on “Schwarze Augen,” a percolating, Tangerine Dream-esque efflorescence of majestic synth swells, and the heroic, Neu!-like rock of “Lucky Stars.”

On 1996’s Esperanza, Rother abandons rock and lights out for various strains of middlebrow electronic music, and enlists a vocalist for the first time. He also calls on Joachim Rudolph to program ProTools and DD-1000 computer software, making this the most digital-sounding record in Rother’s discography. On “Silver Sands,” a forlorn panpipe melody and prim boom-bap lifted from the trip-hop playbook alert you to his new paradigm. At 17 tracks, Esperanza could have benefited from editing, but Rother does generate some engrossing ideas. “Weil Schnee Und Eis” (which features vocals and lyrics by Jens Harke) proffers sluggish trip-hop that could almost be mistaken for a release by WordSound artist Spectre, its low end far dirtier than typical for Rother, who’s notoriously averse to bass frequencies. The gently psychedelic “Wolkenwelt” is odd enough to segue into an ambient-dub excursion by the Orb and proves that Rother may have had an ear cocked toward the outdoor-rave circuit. Esperanza’s peak cosmic effort, “Gleitflug,” is as hypnotic as Harald Grosskopf’s best material.

If Esperanza proved that Rother could adeptly adapt to the zeitgeist, for 2004’s Remember (The Great Adventure) he relied more heavily on singers, outside producers (including Asmus Tietchens and Jake Mandell), danceable rhythms, and conventional song structures. The chant-intensive “Energy It Up (Part 1)”—featuring Herbert Grönemeyer’s vocals and easy-going beats by Mouse on Mars’ Andi Toma—resembles the Beta Band. Perhaps even more surprising are the songs that recall the Wire offshoot A.C. Marias: “Sweet Sweat,” with singer Sophie Joiner adding a frosty swirl of sensuality, and the slow-burning churner “Energy It Up (Part 2),” which is cross-hatched with strange FX. But the maudlin, widescreen ballad “Morning After (Loneliness),” the humdrum electronic brooder “Nostalgia,” and the stodgily depressing “Remember” are so ill considered, they almost negate the album’s highlights.

This year’s Dreaming continues Rother’s drift away from rock and toward song-based electronic music. Rather than boldly deviating from previous works, he instead nudges the music’s minimalist elements into slightly altered forms. So although “Bitter Tang” echoes the slow-motion disco of Lindstrøm, a first for Rother, it retains his plangent guitar tone and those trademark wistful chord progressions that suggest awe of natural beauty. Dreaming is at its worst when it slips into the saccharine sentimentality of“Fierce Wind Blowing,” “Gravitas,” and “Quiet Dancing.” More often, though, Rother seems suited for his role as an elder hero transitioning into a late-career metamorphosis. The soaring minimalist techno of “Wopp Wopp” isn’t a million kilometers from Kraftwerk’s late-period work, with its synthesized vocals blurring into a serene drone over the sproingy metallic percolations. At once majestic and dulcet, the dub funk of “Hey Hey” splits the difference between the Orb and Enya.

Recorded from 1988 to 1994, Bonustracks yields a few extraordinary cuts from Rother’s hiatus between 1987’s Traumreisen and 1996’s Esperanza, but the majority of the collection traffics in Weather Channel tapestries. Typical is “The Doppelgänger,” a pellucid, mellow guitar study with faint echoes of his pastoral Neu! magic augmented by wispy choral drones and the occasional cymbal crescendo. “Silencio,” a majestic meander of ambivalent beauty, represents Rother’s default mode of this era: a wan resignation that nonetheless contains depth and breadth. But it’s “Unterwasserwolken” that reminds us of Rother’s forte: forging aquatic ambience pregnant with pathos through long delays on his guitar, and then shifting into a smooth motorik jam with the élan of a bicyclist leaning into a downhill swerve.

These two boxed sets prove that Rother’s music has changed subtly and at his own pace, sporadically capturing the thrill of his peak feats in Neu! and Harmonia. They also reveal that Rother’s talents flourish best in group settings. Listening to Solo and Solo II, you can sense the returns diminishing, but the original source was so potent, even the decline bestows rewards.
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Michael Rother - Solo And Solo II Music Albums Reviews Michael Rother - Solo And Solo II Music Albums Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, September 15, 2020 Rating:

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