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Tony Conrad - Tony Conrad & Faust: Outside the Dream Syndicate CD (album) cover


Tony Conrad



4.18 | 46 ratings

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4 stars In theory this should have been an easy album to review. There wasn't much to the original 1972 LP besides a slow, metronome drum beat, all but unchanging over each nearly half- hour side of vinyl, with some droning violas layered on top. And the expanded twin-CD reissue only doubled the monotony. Imagine the motorik rhythm of NEU!, missing a spark plug and slowed to a narcoleptic crawl.

At first exposure, "From the Side of Man and Womankind" (the album's entire A-Side) resembles a 27-minute intro to a song that never really starts. But as Tony Conrad himself told drummer Werner Diermaier: maintaining a steady pace for so long can be an incredibly hard task. And it's the same unyielding reduction of sound that likewise poses such a difficult challenge for listeners.

But what might have seemed merely interminable becomes strangely hypnotic when the track is reprised, in an even longer variation, at the end of the bonus disc. Of course by then you've been conditioned by over sixty minutes of minimalism in between, but don't worry: it's a very dynamic form of minimalism, owing little to the easily ignored ambient model pioneered by ENO and others. The two separate versions of Conrad's "Mankind / Womankind" each create a considerable amount of tension by doing next to nothing, exploiting the suspense of unfulfilled expectations.

The album was credited to Mr. Conrad, with the Krautrockers of FAUST in a supporting role. But the second half of the LP ("From the Side of the Machines") reversed the marquee sequence and put the Germans in charge of building an equally relentless groove, "more like rock 'n' roll", according to Conrad. Clearly, his notion of rock music wasn't grounded in the usual roots of Rhythm and Blues. And Faust, being Faust, responded with one of their best and most quintessential lockstep jams.

Oddly enough, the "Machines" side actually sounds more human than "The Side of Man and Womankind", with a little variety to the drumming, and with the bass guitar extending beyond a single note. Maybe it's the harmonics of Conrad's overdubbed strings, but there's an almost Celtic aura to the music, making it sound like an angry mob of alien bagpipers invading Lower Saxony. The tightly controlled psychedelia (not an oxymoron) makes for a thrilling experience, and one of the great unsung Krautrock epiphanies of the early 1970s.

For the sake of lazy comparison, you can fit this album neatly onto the same shelf next to Fripp & Eno, as a more Teutonic "No Pussyfooting". A generation later it remains a timeless classic of (edgy) electronic meditation. But this belated admirer will need some time to fully absorb its mysteries, before awarding the effort that inevitable fifth star.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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