The return of Cavern Of Anti-Matter is exciting—partly because it’s a consolidation of the band’s own distinct identity. With any new project, the trio’s leader Tim Gane constantly runs the gauntlet of critical and fan expectations, thanks to his considerable body of work with Stereolab. And indeed when COA-M made their first album Blood-Drums in 2013, its low-key release and limited edition made it feel a lot more like a side project than the start of a new chapter. However, following a smattering of singles on other labels, 2016’s Void Beats/Invocation Trex changed all that. Word-of-mouth recommendations spread like wildfire, and its hypnotic synth repetitions and lush production won plenty of fans who’d never even heard of Stereolab. It ended up on quite a few best-of-year lists, and a deluxe reissue of Blood-Drums at the start of 2017 helped to keep the newly-won audience interested. Now, Hormone Lemonade is here, cementing the fact that COA-M are very much their own band, with a sound worth getting fired up about in its own right.
It’s also exciting precisely because of that sound, and how certain cosmic experiments from 40 years ago are still producing glorious results. Stereolab always had an element of krautrock—they were open in their love of 1970s records by Neu!, Faust, Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel, Can, and of course Kraftwerk—weaving their influence into their cerebral indie pop. And COA-M take that obsession further still, centering everything they do around the repetitive structures and “motorik” rhythmic motifs—where you can’t tell what’s a machine with human qualities and what’s a human player being deliberately mechanical—of those German pioneers. Which is not to say that COA-M sound nostalgic.
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Sure, there are whimsical melodies—and synthesizers that are recognizably of a certain vintage—in their work. But the glory of those ’70s experiments is that, in the same way that house and techno would later do with funk and disco, they reduced their source material down to pure geometry. Whether it was the driving rock of Neu!, the madcap psychedelic collage of Faust, or the “kosmische” synthetic textures of Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel, by stripping away obvious cultural reference points and building complex tessellations from simple elements, the krautrock originators were able to produce something that lasted beyond immediate trends. It is why COA-M are able to make music now full of direct references to the past, yet glitters with newness. So, too, are many other radically different acts, as you can see from the following sample of a rich seam running through contemporary music.
Though krautrock is often seen as a nerds’ genre for record collectors who fixate on details, it was (and still is) first and foremost about sonic immediacy. This collective of musicians from the British Midlands know that very well: bringing in hints of Japanese noise rock as well as the rigid and spiky grooves of the German influences, they truly kick out the jams on these improvised live jams. One to give your brain a good scour and freshen up.
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With a style built on repetition, Fujiya & Miyagi have changed their sound very little in the 16 years since their debut album Electro Karaoke in the Negative Style. Neu!-via-Stereolab repetitions of one- and two-note riffs and sardonically murmured lyrics on the minutiae of life are all beamed into your brain via subtly insidious melodies. It’s a brilliantly addictive formula that’s seen the band’s records become a staple of phased after-club sessions for ravers in the U.K. and further afield, and despite its archness, reveals emotional depths on repeat listens too.
The DIY punk scene has always looked to krautrock for musical inspiration, and Baltimore’s SURF HARP are particularly adept at blending it into their nervy sound, along with hints of Beefheart, Talking Heads, and all kinds of other goodness. As with many other artists—see Fujiya & Miyagi as a prime example—the band use the monotone riffing of their Germanic influences as signifiers of the repetitions of daily life in consumer society.
Psychedelic tape experiments from Portland that, while they also channel Syd Barrett and various American garage freakbeat misfits, owe no small debt to Holger Czukay’s pulling Stockhausen’s techniques out of the academy and into the freakzone of Can. This has the air of coming from sessions every bit as heady as those of German hippies trying to forge a new identity as their country emerged from the shadows of war.
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Slightly confusing for U.K. listeners, who might assume Nightcrawlers are the cheesy mid-’90s Scottish dance act, this is actually a compilation of absolutely remarkable space-exploring synth experiments from “the rugged outskirts of Philadelphia.” The Nightcrawlers are brothers Peter and Tom Gulch, along with Dave Lunt, and through the ’80s they released three LPs and some 40 cassettes of rippling tonal textures directly inspired by Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze. The recordings now sound rough, but the fact they’re reaching for the sublime is tangible throughout, and their ability to conjure cosmic vistas is undimmed by time or tape quality.
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There’s always been a natural affinity between krautrock at its most driving and other forms of primitivist rock—there’s a very fine line between Neu! and Hawkwind or The Stooges, for example. And (the) Dead Sea Flowers from Birmingham, Alabama know this very well. Sometimes they’re slinky and funky, but when they step on the gas, there’s a glorious relentlessness to their forward motion.
Very much in the kosmische zone of synthesizer ripples and glassy textures, the work of Londoner Will Young, aka Moon Gangs, is nonetheless a long way from the New Age-style textures that have become popular in the wake of acts like Emeralds and the new London ambient scene. Rather, he seems to take in a wide range of Tangerine Dream’s oeuvre, from their Phaedra-style droning drift all the way through to their sometimes preposterous ’80s film scores, and cooks up something new from the various parts.
The London label Sonic Cathedral got its name from the cliché of overwrought descriptions in ’80s music magazines of Cocteau Twins and early shoegaze records—and certainly, there’s a lot of shoegaze influence in their output. But that is also shot through with electronica and other repetitious, psychedelic experimentation, including the spirit of ’70s Germany. Mark Peters’s work perfectly treads the line between Kraftwerkian mesmerism and the chiming guitars of the likes of Ride and Slowdive. This mini album from last year is about to get a Large Scale reissue.
The hypnotic qualities of krautrock are naturally attractive to those of an occultist disposition—just ask Julian Cope, chief druid (or “drood”) of the rock underground and faithful champion of ’70s German obscurities. Or just ask Manchester’s Primitive Knot, about their “darker, faster, louder, shamanic, occulted noise.” Sometimes, their records veer into a black-metal-punk horror show, but even when they do, there’s a pure motorik hypnosis that’s both familiar and terrifyingly strange.
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Texan-in-London Craig Clouse has led many different permutations of the “band” Shit and Shine over the years, including one with seven drummers. More recently, his records have tended to the electronic, including releases on punk techno overlord Powell’s label Diagonal—but whether digital or rocking out, there’s a strong, driving krautrock influence running throughout. Here, he hits the sweet spot between sonic processing wigouts and rock familiarity, updating the Dada spirit of Faust into new and alarming forms.