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Guru Guru


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4 stars No cause to rue the shadowy goo

There is a discernible trace of Captain Beefheart in much of this record but thankfully it is the more palatable mannerisms that Guru Guru have drawn from as a source of inspiration e.g. the dyslexic funk, delta slide guitar and odd meters of Van Vliet & Co. Mercifully absent is the 'solipsistic nonsense' posturing as 'surrealistic stream of consciousness' that makes the Captain such an insufferable charlatan.(but see Track 13)

But we are not here to court martial an officer and a scoundrel so let's get on with appraising this very fine slice of Krautrock.

This is the only 'Guru Guru' album I have heard and given that their longevity has produced over 20 albums, it should be self evident that I am not going to pretend that Psy is typical or indicative of their other offerings. However, having perused the reviews on PA of much of their earlier records, it seems that 2008's Psy might just be their most accessible work to date, and perhaps represents the ideal place to make an acquaintance with this extremely talented and innovative band.

'Dark Blue Star' - Quite possibly the most gorgeous drum sound I can remember hearing in close to 20 years, Mani Neumeier's kit is captured beautifully on this intro with just the right amount of ambiance wedded to crisp attack and apart from say, Billy Cobham's efforts realized on Spectrum I ain't heard better. Percolating little pockets of analogue synth bubbles are eventually punctured by a powerful half-time groove and the track features some spine tingling 'call to prayer in Jerusalem' style vocalizing against an insistent sitar and guitar driven drone riff. Chris Karrer from Amon Duul II drops in to contribute some delicious eastern inflected glissando violin to wonderful effect. Most rock bands can carry off the weight of 'drone' based riffery quite easily but it takes a lot of experience and 'nous' to lend this compositional device the playful lightness that Guru Guru accomplish so effortlessly here. Decadently yummy and surprisingly low in calories.

'Jaipur' - A homage to the 'Pink City' in India which comes across as almost a jazz/blues raga with initial unison playing of a memorable theme featuring what to my rodent ears resembles a conventional sax but might actually be some sort of horn indigenous to the east? (or the player has managed to mimic brilliantly the vocabulary of Indian classical music) The piece then transitions into a sparing funky beat over which a snaky and slithering solo is stated by the aforementioned nadaswarum/shenai 'thang' before a rejoinder of the opening thematic material. Waiter!, put the toilet rolls in the fridge, this curry is a real 'ringer stinger'....

'Luigi' - Where Talking Heads circa Remain in Light meet Don Van Vliet's neurotic nephew in a dislocated funk exercise with some breathy jazzy sax and 60's reverse guitar locking antlers in a bizarre mating ritual/dance. So taut you can hear the elastic squeal in protest....

'Wonderland' - Imagine Lynyrd Skynyrd playing in 'seven' on the laconic guttural prompting of Captain Beefheart and you are approaching the ballpark on this one. Once again, superb use of bottleneck slide guitar to lend a delta blues atmosphere to proceedings. This does have a more conventional song structure, and although the lyrics are undoubtedly sincere, they do however encroach rather tritely on the hipper side of the white liberal angst fence:

I know children starve to death while burgers drown in fat

(Yeah, dying is horrid, I hate the skin that forms on hot milk and people are cruel and greedy - like we don't know that?)

'For Ivy' - Starts incongruously with a very brief chamber orchestral motif before mutating without warning into a punky strain of Pere Ubu 'pogoing' to Gavin Friday and the Virgin Prunes with a dash of the Cramps rockabilly to boot (No, I ain't kidding)

'Yellow Sunshine' - A languid and indolent stroll in 'five' that transitions with ingenious panache into differing meters and feels with consummate ease. Tenuously akin to Tull's Living in the Past played at 33 rpm. There is some very beguiling and airy sax on this and like all the tracks on this record, the composition is very disciplined and tightly economical. (Which is perhaps not a feature of some of the other rather aimless and spacey jamming types of Krautrock) Waiter! a bottle of Jack Daniels with my compliments please to whoever contributes the thrilling slide guitar on so much of this album.

Sorry to harp on about one of my 'pet peeves' again in this review but bands who attempt to tackle 'odd' time signatures would be well served to check out how it should be done by the likes of 'Guru Guru' (and Jethro Tull for that matter) to avoid the pitfalls of attempting to reverse side-on into a parking space sufficient only to accommodate a very cramped family of white mice. (see Prog Metal/Post Rock for some truly appalling examples of road rage)

'Mi Caro Caro' - Delightful and deceptively simple slow instrumental with another flock of goosebump heaven delivered to this lemming's spinal chord by some exquisite slide guitar and plaintive harmonic support which implies rather than states the underlying chords. Beautiful.

'Sumpfige Wasser' - Please beware vulnerable females of New Orleans who choose to traverse these swampy waters as you need to look out for lurking German alligators who intone with lecherous menace:

I know you wait late at night, wait for me baby, oh yeah, I'm coming

(Keep your pets indoors)

'Jan and Mani' - Named presumably on account of it being a bracing drum duet between Mani Neumeier and Kraan's Jan Fride. Both sticksmeisters weave together a funky syncopated tapestry of delights which most of the dance community attempt by simply layering different beats together (you cannot achieve anything close to this dynamic dialogue and interplay by using the latter method kiddies)

'Blue Angel' - Fueled by a very infectious little riff over a simple two chord jam that reeks of the Velvet Underground (which begs the question after a 40 year career - who influenced who?) Once again, command of this type of Spartan harmonic territory takes considerable skill and is much, much harder that it sounds. I particularly love Peter Kuhmstedt's bass on this number as his playing dictates to a large extent the perceived tempo of the song i.e. you don't have to speed up to sound faster, but just play in double time at the appropriate places.

'Die Verkündung' - Haunting and atmospheric intro which even seems to feature a spooky and echoey duckcall? before we gradually transition into a 'Can' like cymbal propelled groove with some electronic mimicry of an unknown alien dialect floating in and around the chiming and clattering interior. At 5 mins 10 secs this is the perfect length for anything remotely ambient and spacey within which not to outstay it's welcome.

'Spam Spam' - No Python references alas but some intoxicating and playful funk with yet more glorious sounding drumming from the main man 'Mani' shackled to a weird and mutated kiddies 'playground' vocal that is both carefree and urgent at the same time. A very endearing 'Guru Guru' trademark throughout this record is their use of unusual timbres with which to source disorienting percussion effects and we are subject to all manner of startling flanged, chorused and delayed soundbites with which to 'break up' the insistent groove based compositional structures.

'Elektrolurch Mutation' - Any obligatory 'bonus track' that dons the number 13 jersey is bound to end up putting through its own goal and necessitating penalties. At the risk of being guilty of giving less than constructive criticism, this is like a recital where the music spoils the coughing. Yep, what a way to ice the cake, a turd instead of a shiny cherry. Self indulgent, aimless, unstructured and smug hippy garbage.

So, ignoring the plankton savagery as represented by track 13, this is still one great album and I would recommend Psy to even those who have not yet dared dip a tremulous tootsie into the convoluted waters of 'Krautrock'

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Posted Saturday, June 21, 2008 | Review Permalink

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