Posts tagged: music

A Quick Lesson from Dr. Krautrock

yetiAmon Düül II is one of the best bands to emerge from the late 60’s, despite having one of the worst names imaginable.  They made some of the most bizarre, original and exciting music of their time, and were remarkably prescient of bands that would come some 30 years later.  But their catalogue is insanely confusing and has more misses than hits, so I decided to put together a guide for curious music snobs.

Amon Düül began as a crazy hippy commune in Germany, banging different instruments for 12 hours at a time.  The commune included women, children and what I’m sure was a giant cauldron of LSD.  Someone had channeled their inner-spirit to flip on some recording equipment, which spawned Amon Düül’s first album Psychedelic Underground.  The album basically sounds like a bunch of hippies chanting and playing what sounds like Fat Albert’s Junkyard Gang if someone reconstructed it outside of the cartoon world.  If that sounds appealing to you, then by all means, put your bong down and pick this one up.  But soon some of the more musical members of the commune said “Look, I may be tripping face right now, but we could probably do better than this.”  and broke off to make their own music.

They decided to call themselves Amon Düül II, because heaven forbid you give up such a memorable and easily pronounced name.  Rolls right off the tongue.  And surely it wouldn’t make their discography difficult to research.

They debuted with Phallus Dei, which is latin for God’s Penis.  The only thing more epic than that title is the music within, which careens from said hippy clattering to spooky space rock to rhythmic bongo explosions.  The whole thing is pretty frightening. The 20 minute title track switches motifs about a dozen times, and when the nonsense vocals finally come barging in, a climax of weirdness is hit that makes Zappa’s oddest moments sound like the Jonas Brothers.  Not that the Jonas Brothers aren’t the weirdest fucking thing on the planet, but you get my drift.

Apparently God’s Penis wasn’t exemplary enough of the hugeness of their trip, so they expanded to a double LP format for their next album YetiYeti is one of the most amazing albums I have ever heard, and they were such a tight band they were able to make the entire second disc improvisational.  It winds, it grinds, and the album hits its apex with a track called Eye-Shaking King.  Just give this thing a listen:


Jesus Christ.  That was from 1970, and is about a trillion times heavier than anything from its time.  Hell, I’d be hard up to find stuff even now that’s that heavy, let alone scary.  And what is going on with those vocals?  It sounds like an angry demon singing into a saxophone or something.  Can you imagine the guy who penned that song?  Or the band meeting where he presented it?  “Look, guys, this is what needs to go on the record.  It is what the world needs.  I only wrote the first half down, we’ll figure out something for the second half when we finish performing the first half.  Just trust me.”

One year later, Amon Düül II came out with another double LP, Tanz der Lemminge which translates into Dance of the Lemmings.  Apparently their bad trip was cooling down a bit, because the album doesn’t have the same frightening heights as Yeti.  Not that it isn’t as weird, it’s a little stranger if anything, but there’s nothing on it that compares to Eye-Shaking King or Archangels Thunderbird.  A little more aimless, but no less interesting.

No, they were saving the boring shit for a few albums.  After the incredible album Wolf City, they saw where the 70’s were going musically worldwide, which is straight down the fucking toilet.  If Styx could make pointless prog rock exercises, then doggunnit, Germany will follow suit.  And they kept farting along through the 80’s, with most of the core members putting down their instruments, wiping off their facepaint and finding something else to do.

The remaining members made it remarkably easy for the record buying public to avoid their shitty new albums.  The early Amon Düül II albums have awesome album artwork.  Check out the cover to Wolf City:


Or Yeti:


Colorful, timeless and totally without precedent.  They look like Animal Collective records.  When the new Amon Duul II took the reins they decided to put out records that look like this:


And this:


They may as well have called the album Mildewy Record Your Dad Bought Back in the Late 70’s Because it Only Cost Twenty-Five Cents. These albums had a much wider distribution, so they’re much easier to find, but trust me, they’re as bad as they look.  And usually when you do find them they’re in terrible shape, because the waste-cases that actually owned and listened to them never kept the record in its sleeve so it’s clotted with 20 year old dust and marijuana stems.

The CD reissues are terrific for the most part.  They have the original artwork, colorful cardboard gatefolds, and even have CD’s that look like the original vinyl LP’s.  The booklets that are included give you neat photos of the band and some of the most poorly translated liner notes I have ever seen.  Every single one I’ve read refer to the accompanying album as a “masterpiece”, so the word loses a little bit of its weight.

Oh, and what’s this?  Bonus tracks?  YES!  Sheesh, Phallus Dei’s bonus tracks are as long the album itself!  But don’t be fooled, dear reader, because whoever made these bonus tracks are NOT the Amon Düül II of that time.  Whoever it is that recorded these things sounds like they made them with free music software on a late 90’s eMachine, and have no qualms with dragging the cursor so that they’re over 10 minutes long.  So don’t be afraid to erase them from your iTunes if you’re looking to save hard drive space or are afraid of them coming on in a shuffle at a party, making you look like the lamest person in the universe.

THIS universe


Copyright Tom Van Deusen 2014.