Right around the new year, I set myself to the task of compiling my favorite German experimental LPs of the late 1960s and early 70s for a feature on essential kosmische musik. Quite sadly, founding member of Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese passed away last month, and a showcase of music he composed or inspired is the least I can do in his honor. Electronic and ambient music would surely not be where it is today without the contributions of this fantastic musician.
The feature will be presented in two parts, and the conclusion will feature some special recordings you may not have heard of so be sure to tune in for both installments.
Additionally, I intend for this to be a one-click introduction for those interested in exploring highlights of kosmische musik, so I will include embedded full-album YouTube videos for every album that I can so that listeners can read about and listen to each artist I present.
Both general krautrock and the Berlin School rose to prominence in the late 1960s and early 70s and each produced a number of influential records which helped shape the music of the decades that followed.
Phallus Dei by Amon Düül II was arguably the first proper krautrock record, but personally, I prefer pensive and cerebral space music to brilliant uninhibited freak-outs.
Amon Düül II – Phallus Dei (1969)
And so, fittingly, I’ll begin with the aforementioned Tangerine Dream. This is the “In the Beginning…” box set released on Relativity in 1985 which contains their first four albums – Electronic Meditation, Alpha Centauri, Zeit, and Atem, as well as the then-unreleased Green Desert LP.
Dubbed “the pink years” for the pink ear on the original Ohr labels, these were early explorations in ambient music, and with each release they ventured further from traditional rhythms and meter into the outer reaches of space music.
All four titles are staples of the genre, and fortunately each was recently reissued on 180g vinyl in a gatefold sleeve in the UK by Esoteric Reactive. I’m considering trading the set in for these new pressings.
Tangerine Dream – Electronic Meditation (1970)
Tangerine Dream – Alpha Centauri (1971)
Tangerine Dream – Zeit (1972)
Tangerine Dream – Atem (1973)
Tangerine Dream – Green Desert (recorded 1973)
Of course there were many other excellent TD titles released in the years that followed.
Universally-acclaimed classics include Phaedra, Ricochet (a live album), Rubycon, Stratosphere, Cyclone, and Exit. These recordings of their first 10 years of activity were their finest and most exploratory works.
Cluster II (1972) is another staple of the genre. Phillipe of ProgArchives.com accurately summarized the album as “industrial and chaotic… a sonic meditation… and a pleasant cerebral massage,” an excellent summary of this album’s sound. As Cluster II is more accessible than the mechanical noise of their debut LP, this is a great introduction to Cluster. (But once you’re hooked you’ll need to go back and pick up their debut from 1971.)
Cluster – Cluster II (1972)
If you prefer a more organic flavor of ambient music, seek out Cluster & Eno from 1977.
More sparse and delicate than the collaborations between Fripp & Eno just a few years earlier, Cluster & Eno is reflective, late night music. Put it on and ponder your very existence in a vast and expansive universe.
Cluster & Eno – Cluster & Eno (1977)
A follow-up collaboration was recorded in 1978, this time credited to Clusters’ members by name. After the Heat is a rewarding experience for the patient ear. It has a slow but steady pace and concludes with two outstanding tracks with vocals by Brian Eno. “The Belldog” is a must for fans of any period of Eno’s music, and the closing track (whose title I will not even attempt to pronounce) features the lyrics to “Kings Lead Hat” played backwards… and it WORKS… because Eno.
Eno/Moebius/Roedelius – After the Heat (1978)
Kraftwerk, of course, played a critical role as krautrock’s mechanized ambassadors to the world. But before they developed their trademark sound with Autobahn and Radioactivity, they released Kraftwerk I and II (1970-72) These early records are much more organic and free-form than the Futurist sounds of their better-known LPs. The albums feature multi-dubbed flutes, an organ, tape-music noise and drone soundscapes. If you dig experimental tunes, these are classics.
Kraftwerk – Kraftwerk (1970)
Kraftwerk – Kraftwerk II (1971)
These are the Crown label bootlegs on red & green vinyl. The jackets are quickly identifiable by the really shoddy low-res prints of the original art but that aside, they’re an affordable way to get your hands on some early Kraftwerk.
Ralf and Florian (1973) was their 3rd LP (not including Organisation’s Tone Float) and features much of the same sounds heard on 1 and 2 but with a more structured and polished sound.
Kraftwerk – Ralf und Florian (1973)
As I tend to gravitate toward more abstract music I don’t play this record as often as the others, but its historical importance and impact on the music which followed can not be overstated.
Ralf and Florian was followed by the records for which they are best-known –
Kraftwerk – Autobahn (1974)
Kraftwerk – Radio-Activity (1975)
Kraftwerk – Trans Europa Express (1977)
and the electro-pop staple, The Man-Machine.
Kraftwerk – The Man-Machine (1978)
I’ll end this segment appropriately with a solo selection from Tangerine Dream founder, Edgar Froese. He released three primary solo recordings between I’ve seen this title turn up multiple times in the Youtube Vinyl Community. Epsilon in Malaysian Pale is Edgar Froese’s second album, recorded in 1975. The album consists of two side-long pieces – the first featuring the Mellotron and the second a rhythmic wash of ambient synths. If you’ve been meaning to get into Froese’s solo work, this is certainly the place to begin.
Edgar Froese – Epsilon In Malaysian Pale (1975)
These classics will serve as an excellent introduction to the genre. Stay tuned next week for more fantastic essentials!