Sunday, June 9, 2024

Soltero @ Schokoladen

It's time: Soltero is playing our first show of the year! We've got some new songs, new arrangements, and a new album.

It's July 3rd at Schokoladen. Show at 8pm, doors at 7pm, MDMAR opens. See you there!

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Human Highway (1982)

It’s rare that I’m compelled to write a review because I consumed media that is so bad that I feel the urge to warn other people to stay away. (The only other time I can think of was after buying John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges in a fit of naïve, overzealous, completionist fandom.) As a great fan of Neil Young and at least a modest fan of Devo, it’s hard not to be curious about Human Highway, a film financed, cowritten, and codirected by the former and featuring the acting and music of both. Allow me to tell you now not to watch this movie. Wikipedia covers the “plot” and background details well enough, so let me summarize what this film features:
  • Bad acting from everyone involved
  • Bad writing, no character development, and a flimsy excuse for a plot
  • Blatant racism, including both Young and Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh (as Booji Boy) dropping a slur
  • Casual sexism
  • Romanticization of car culture despite the vague environmentalist/anti-nuclear theme
  • Nuclear apocalypse
  • A senseless and gross milk bath
  • Less focus on music than you might hope for
  • Only one musical collaboration between Young and Devo
It is this last point that provides any reason to consider preserving any part of this film. The infamous early jam version of “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” with Booji Boy on lead vocals (recorded in 1978 before the officially released Crazy Horse version on Rust Never Sleeps (1979)) is bizarre and wonderful. But you can find that online without having to endure the rest. I suppose there’s also Devo’s cover of “It Takes a Worried Man”, but you can find that on their delightful The Complete Truth About Devolution (1993) anyway. The movie also features parts of most of the synthesizer songs from Young’s excellent and idiosyncratic Trans (1982), which might’ve been novel for the very few people who caught the movie before the album was released, but that’s irrelevant today. (And yes, I loved Trans long before I understood myself to be trans!)

Young was clearly fascinated by the phrase “human highway”, as evidenced by recording and performing myriad versions of the song over the years, recording an unfinished album under the same name with CSN in the 70s, and ultimately making this film. Of everything he created that used the phrase, this movie is the worst by a wide margin.

I have some concern that by bringing attention to this movie, I may inspire someone to watch it. Please do not make this mistake. It is not even campy in a so-bad-it’s-good sense. It’s just bad. It makes me think less of Young. He was old enough to know better.

Human Highway: D-
Young and Devo’s “Hey Hey, My My”: A
Trans: A-
The entirely unrelated Neil Young song “Human Highway” from Comes a Time: A
Either of the CSNY versions of “Human Highway” from Archives II (2020), originally recorded in 1973 and 1976: A+

Friday, January 12, 2024

Uwe Schütte (ed.) - The Cambridge Companion to Krautrock (2023)

About nine years ago, I reviewed Julian Cope’s Krautrocksampler (1995), and I complained quite a bit about it and suggested finding a different guide. Despite my own recommendation, I never did so myself. I suppose I’d already made the plunge, so reading another book about Krautrock and kosmische Musik felt unnecessary. Nonetheless, I was always curious if the perfect primer would eventually come around. David Stubbs’s Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany (2014) got good reviews, and Ulrich Adelt’s Krautrock: German Music in the Seventies (2016) also looked promising, and maybe someday I’ll try one or the other. But after enjoying the honesty and depth of Uwe Schütte’s Godstar: Die fünf Tode des Genesis P-Orridge (2022), I decided to check out The Cambridge Companion to Krautrock, which he edited and wrote the introduction and Kraftwerk section for.

[The Cambridge Companion to Krautrock.]

Schütte assembled a superb team of writers to fill out the text, including both Stubbs (on Neu!) and Adelt (on “Definitions, Concepts, [and] Context”). That each section is somewhat independent means that there is unfortunately some overlap, but that’s a minor inconvenience. The benefit is a wide variety of perspectives with unique specializations and interests. The book provides a great overview of the social, political, musical, and geographic background that gave rise to the genre (or “discursive formation”, as Adelt prefers to call it, since the movement isn’t really a cohesive unit), thorough deep-dives into some of the primary artists, and a well-considered selection of the subsequent genres and artists that have been influenced by Krautrock.

The tone is academic but approachable, which I preferred quite a bit to Cope’s excited mess, even if I missed some of the passion. The book is in English, despite that several authors (and the music itself) hail from Germany, which occasionally means there are some awkward phrases, like describing music as “spherical”. (In German, “sphärisch” can mean something like “atmospheric”, “celestial”, or “spacey”.) Thankfully, this is rarely distracting. I also appreciated the attention paid to detail and accuracy, again unlike Cope’s wild exaggerations and reliance on oft-repeated rumors. The only mistake I encountered was the claim that Klaus Dinger never appeared on a Kraftwerk album. (He is credited with playing drums on “Vom Himmel hoch” on their debut album.)

The breadth is quite wide and generally quite balanced, with practically none of the idiosyncratic bias of Cope’s tastes. I was initially surprised how little mention the folk, prog, and jazz sides of the genre received, but since those are the factions that were most similar to contemporaneous Anglo-American acts, it’s an understandable choice. (I also tend to be less interested in those bands.) I would’ve loved a section on Agitation Free, but otherwise the choice of highlighted bands is probably the same set that I would’ve picked, both in terms of notoriety and quality. However, my favorite chapter was Jens Balzer’s “The Flip Side of Krautrock”, which was full of pleasant surprises. He openly acknowledges some of the conservative or even counter-revolutionary aspects of the movement, such as the relative lack of women and immigrant voices in the canon, and discusses some notable acts from adjacent genres, like Die Dominas, Inga Rumpf of Frumpy, and Turkish-German bağlama player Ozan Ata Canani.

I also particularly enjoyed the third part on Krautrock’s legacy, which includes chapters on punk and Neue Deutsche Welle, post-punk, and electronic dance music. Several of my favorite artists from the late 70s and 80s are cited in their connection to Krautrock, including Einstürzende Neubauten, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Bauhaus, and of course David Bowie. The discussion and comparison with German punk is quite insightful, particularly in exploring the shared desire to reject oppressive, received, Anglo-American norms. The final chapter on “Krautrock Today” also covers a great selection of younger bands in the kosmische mold, including of course Stereolab.

This is the book I wish I could’ve read ten years ago. We can safely forget about Cope now. (Well, not his music!) It’s telling how far the movement has gone in public perception that it can now grace the prestiged printing presses of Cambridge. It’s no longer just the domain of obscure fanatics. The internet has thrown open the doors, and academia has finally caught up.

Score: A-

P.S.: Two links buried in the footnotes deserve calling out. First is a Detroit TV show clip featuring a bunch of people in 1991 dancing to Kraftwerk’s “Nummern” (“Numbers”). Second is a Facebook post by Adelt in the Krautrock group in which he spawns the most absurd debate about the boundaries of the genre I’ve ever seen, only to be hijacked by The Crack in the Cosmic Egg coauthor (and group moderator) Alan Freeman pressing Amon Düül II vocalist Renate Knaup for Melody Maker scans from the 70s!

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Prague Symphony Orchestra & Prague Chamber Choir - Live 2024.01.02 Berliner Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany

1. Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, composed by Ludwig van Beethoven (1822-24)
2. Carmina Burana, composed by Carl Orff (1935-36)

This double-header of two quite popular works performed by a major orchestra and choir from Prague on tour at one of Berlin’s finest venues seemed like a guaranteed success. The first two movements of Beethoven’s Ninth started off the afternoon well: both the tension of the first and the rhythmic stops and starts of the second were handled with grace. The third movement began to drag (although perhaps I can blame Beethoven for not predicting my modern tastes), but the fourth began to unravel. It’s the most dramatic and well-known part of the whole work, and the only movement featuring the choir, but the many pieces of the puzzle didn’t quite fit together. The powerful melody shone through, and the soloists did their parts justice, but the timing was rough and the sound was chaotic.

Carmina Burana also seemed to start on a high note with the “O Fortuna” movement, but the signs of discoordination were again soon apparent. With even more musicians on stage, and some changing instruments during the performance, there were even more moving parts, and the performers were not able to get it together. In a particularly crucial moment, the first French horn player even missed a note, eliciting a look of horror from his neighbor. I was impressed by the density, power, and complexity of the work, but the sloppy timing was a significant distraction. Not being familiar with the lyrics and not being able to understand the Latin and Middle High German didn’t help with making sense of the movements. The climax of the “O Fortuna” reprise had moments of rapture, but the wheels had come off and the musicians seemed exhausted such that it came off worse than the first movement.

The soloists were on their game, but I can’t say the same for the rest of the performers. Was conductor Martin Pešík to blame for the lack of cohesion? Did some members celebrate the new year a little too heartily? Was it too difficult to get over 80 musicians together for long enough to sufficiently rehearse these two lengthy works? Whatever the case, I expected a higher standard for a performance like this.

Score: C-

P.S. The groups were billed as Tschechische Symphoniker Prag and Coro di Praga, and it is surprisingly difficult to determine canonical English (or German!) names for these groups.
P.P.S. Thanks to Alyssa, Katie, and Cheryl!