Sunday, May 20, 2007


Way back in the mists of time, I discovered a copy of Lillian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia in my High School's library. This was just the book to start a budding young rock snob on his way. I'm working from memory here (I would kill for a copy, if anyone on the interwebs has a spare copy...yeah right), but the book featured a nice mix of the well-known and the obscure. And one of the obscure entries was a duo called the Silver Apples who from the description sounded too cool.

What made them so unusual? The lineup for starters, Danny Taylor on drums and occasional vocals and Simeon on the simeon, vocals, banjo and recorder. What the hell's a "simeon" I wondered? Turns out it was a home-made primitive synthesizer cobbled together from oscillators and a telegraph keyboard and other odds and ends. Its inclusion as the main instrument gave the band a very unusual sound: a kind of pulsating rhythmic hum that predates even Neu! as the first motorik band. Sometimes with experimental bands, the experimenting is done at the expense of the tunes, but this is not the case with the 'Apples two albums: Silver Apples [Kapp Records 1968] and Contact [Kapp Records 1969]. Oscillations, Seagreen Serenades, Ruby and the bitter A Pox on You can stand on the strengths of the melodies alone. What I mean to say is, if the songs were played on the standard rock band instrumentation, they would still be good songs. A spin of Electronic Evocations - A Tribute to the Silver Apples [Enraptured. RAPTCS02] proves it.

So what do you need to own? The two sixties albums are obligatory purchases. A third album was in the works at the time the band broke up and was subsequently issued as The Garden . This cd features seven songs recorded in 1968. The set is rounded out by a series of "noodles" which feaure Taylor's original unaccompanied drum tracks with Simeon adding synthesizer flourishes. The "noodles" are OK, but do not sound right as he using a contemporary commercially made synthesizer and not the original instrument that disappeared onto a scrap heap decades ago.

The Silver Apples name is still in use and Simeon continues to make quality music, but it is the sixties recordings that matter the most to me.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007


This time around, it's another release on the Mucho Gusto label: Freak Out Total Volume 3: Quebec-France-Belgique 1968-1973 Psyche Jello [MGCD005]. First things first: there doesn't appear to be a volume 1 or 2 and it's probable that the earlier titles were the Ouba and Les Maledictus Sound, or perhaps the L'Infonie releases. That's just a guess, mind you.

Be that as it may, so what do I hear on this compilation? Some psychedelia, Acid Rock, atypical one-offs, novelty cash-ins and a kazoo tune from a future Star Trek:The Next Generation composer. Oh man, but is this set entertaining!

High points, for me, are the most ridiculous ones: Quo Vadis' s "Zeppelin Party" which is an hommage to you-know-who. "Whoa Ha! Led Zeppeleen! Whoa Ha! Rock and Roll!". I had to listen to the track three times before moving on to Les Sound Track's "S.T.P. #1". There is La Volonte's "CEGEP Blues" which isn't likely to make much sense unless you went to school in Quebec like I did (John Abbott College was my school). I can't leave without mentioning Les Lunours' "Nous Sommes Bi-Bi-Ba-Ba-Boum-Boum" a cheery and spacey pop tune performed by a band who dressed up as bears in spacesuits. That project could only end in tears.

If I had to make a comparison, which I know is lazy as all get out, the set is similar to the Kraut compilations that came out a couple of years ago. Only not German.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Motorik Musik

Some music never, ever gets old. I fell in love with the music of Neu! after buying a copy of a budget sampler called German Rock Scene [Brain Metronome] which opened with a track called "Neuschnee". I know I bought that comp in '75 because of some of the other acts: Guru Guru, Embryo and Thirsty Moon, but it was Neu! that grabbed my attention. Although it took some doing, I managed to track down copies of their three lps and proceeded to wear the grooves out.

Neu! were a duo of Michael Rother on guitar, keyboards, etcetera and Klaus Dinger on drums, guitar, keyboards, whatever vocals were necessary and the obligatory etcetera. Previously they were members of Kraftwerk (as seen in an historic Beat Club clip) before heading off on their own to be a precursor to Punk, Industrial and any number of post-rock experimentalists.

Their self-titled debut [Brain Records 1004] set the template: the archetypal motorik beats of Dinger and the loping, ringing guitar chimes and buzzsaw drones from Rother that sound a little like an experimental version of The Stooges' Funhouse. Face it, Stereolab based their career on Hallogallo alone. My personal favourite is the ten minute "Negativland" where the variation in tempo is created by slowing down or speeding up of the backing track. Priceless.

When faced with recording Neu! 2 [Brain Records 1028], the story is that they were forced to improvise to bring the album up to length, and they did this by re-recording two tracks at (what sounds like) 16rpm, 78 rpm and on a defective cassette machine, complete with skips, surface noise and other audio artifacts. Here's a bit of trivia: A portion of "Super 16" appears on Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill soundtrack.

Their third effort, Neu! '75[Brain Records 1062] proved the most incredible feat of all, three near perfect albums in a row. This time around Dinger and Rother were joined by two additional drummers, Thomas Dinger and Hans Lampe. I'm not sure that it was due to their involvement, but '75 is probably the most rockist and in many ways their most approachable. Even then, they still find time to record a few atmospheric oddities like Leb'Wohl. It's no secret that Bowie heard the recording and that it helped shape his Berlin recordings. A single listen to Neu!'s "Hero" is all the proof you'll need.

A final note, over the years there have been a couple of posthumous releases: a cd called Neu! 4 and a live set. Neither are critical, the former being studio outtakes and the latter, a lo-fi cassette recording. Only obsessive completists need track these down.

Here is a fan-made video. It's basically a set of still images set to "Negativland".

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