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ZUCKERZEIT

Cluster

Krautrock


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Neu!mann
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Next to Ralf and Florian, the biggest pair of names in German electronic music might be Moebius and Roedelius, the brains behind CLUSTER (or KLUSTER, as they were called back when ex-Tangerine Dreamer CONRAD SCHNITZLER was in the group). Both teams grew from the same fertile incubator of late 1960s/early 1970s Krautrock, but unlike the robot-pop stars of KRAFTWERK the two Berliners stayed true to their counterculture roots, content to earn their stripes quietly somewhere on the outer fringes of sonic experimentation.

A subsequent joint endeavor with BRIAN ENO would belatedly fix the gold seal of avant-garde approval to their already sterling credentials, but this 1974 album was where CLUSTER found its true voice. The session was co-produced by MICHAEL ROTHER (joining the pair that same year in their side project HARMONIA), and the melodic instincts of the angelic ex-NEU! guitarist must have had a mellowing influence on the band, easing their transition from primitive noise merchants to prestigious ambient forefathers.

The big difference between the aptly titled "Zuckerzeit" (rough translation: "Sugartime") and the more difficult early KLUSTER recordings is how easily the newer album struck a perfect balance between two contrasting but complimentary talents. Hans-Joachim Roedelius was a modest ivory tickler with a flair for muted, minimalist electric piano arpeggios (a style he would later refine in countless, near-identical solo albums of simple, subtle nursery school tone poems). And Dieter Moebius was the hardcore knob twiddler responsible for that dirty, homegrown drum machine sound, like his occasional electric guitar used more for texture than actual rhythm.

Together they were adept at molding and massaging what might have been a series of strictly academic doodles into unexpected shapes and patterns. But unlike the electronic meditations of other German synth pioneers (I'm thinking of TANGERINE DREAM, naturally), CLUSTER added a measure of typically dry Teutonic wit to their music: check out the back cover photo here, with the two posing like Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

Or try a bite of "Caramel", the obvious highlight of the album, and the closest thing here to a genuine mainstream pop sound (as heard on the planet Mars, at any rate). The track is built entirely around a simple four-note synthesizer pattern, programmed in an up-tempo, toe-tapping 4/4 beat, and like all the best Krautrock it's almost absurdly repetitive and oddly compelling, suggesting a Third Reich and Roll RESIDENTS cover of Depeche Mode or (remember them?) the Silicon Teens.

The sugarcoated "Caramel" then dissolves into the throbbing drones and warped mechanical dreamscape of "Rote Riki", an embryonic foreshadow of the (highly recommended) 1979 Moebius and Conny Plank collaboration "Rastakraut Pasta", driven here by an uncertain but insistent rhythm sounding not unlike a dripping faucet at 2 a.m.

The remainder of the album alternates between gentle, more accessible Roedelius ditties and weirder Moebius detours (I don't know if Moebius is his real name, but it fits). Add them all together and the result is a minor milestone of electronic ingenuity, and a springboard to a larger family tree of challenging music, all of it linked by six degrees of kosmische separation. From the roots of KRAFTWERK and TANGERINE DREAM (and of course the Krautrock demigods of CAN) you can climb to just about every important German band of the era, and more than a few branches will eventually lead you back to CLUSTER.

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Send comments to Neu!mann (BETA) | Report this review (#46470)
Posted Monday, September 12, 2005 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
2 stars Well there is a singular album, groundbreaking for the time it was recorded but not having aged all that well. After two solid albums that were revolutionary in the same mould than Tangerine Dream's Zeit and Atem albums, but this one was drastically different and will resemble Kraftwerk's works from their third album onwards (coincidence on the third album as well?). after two albums as Kluster and two more as Cluster developing a weird but free form music close to tangerine Dream and radical Polit rock as Floh De Cologne, Rodellius and Moebius met up with Neu!'s Michael Rother to experiment an interesting mix of their respective music in a project called Harmonia. The resulting music was definitely rhythmic and clearly Cluster was now influenced by Neu! By the time this album was released, the old Cluster was simply gone and resembled Kraftwerk.

Yes, this album boasts the same kind of proto-new wave that their countrymen would become so famous for, but Cluster will remain obscure, only known to a handful, most notably our great collab Philippe Blache (admirateur éternel de Krautrock électronique) and a few of his pupils. As much as I can recognize historical merits to Cluster, I cannot actually endorse this type of album, hating New Wave as a whole and not just to a rhetorical level. And the atrocious fact is that I cannot even spot one track that would eventually surface as a highlight and stand out on its own. Musically I find the album uninteresting outside its historical importance and it is a far cry from the incredibly adventurous 71 album.

So if you appreciate mid-period Kraftwerk or early 80's music, this album might just be close to indispensable to you, but I cannot think of a more boring (but not historically, though) album. According to this writer, this album is best avoided like the pest. Not sure I appreciate the tendentious photo on the back cover album, also. Let's just say that the album gets its rating rounded to the second star on the basis of its historical importance. But I still prefer the older Cluster or the early Neu! to this album

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#95727)
Posted Thursday, October 26, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars Mechanical electronic drone music, typical for the early electronic krautrock scene (Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Neu!) more electronic and less spacy than TD, more upfront than Neu! and less mechanical than Kraftwerk became. Sounds and electronic noises in harmonic convergence, in a hypnotising repetitive structure.

Great if you love these kinds of ambient electronics, I do.

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Send comments to tuxon (BETA) | Report this review (#98839)
Posted Tuesday, November 14, 2006 | Review Permalink
octopus-4
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
3 stars Today's electronic new age has part of its root in Krautrock. Once you remove the darker elements and highlight the positive ones, what remains is relaxing even if the rhythm doesn't need to be slow.

Cluster in their first "duo" version seem to act in this direction. their music is electronic. Drums are electronic as well, of course. The first two trakcs are of a genre that's closer to what the Kraftwerk did in the years immediately following. This is the pop side of this album.

With tracks like Rote Riki we are back into psychedelia. Good psychedelia, effectively. Not very challenging, based on little variations over a repetitive electronic base. SciFi sounds. Close to early Tangerine Dreams.

Those are the two principal elements that we can find in this album and I think this reflects the different ways of composing of the duo. They play together but compose alone.

The result is a good album, but the tracks are disconnected. There's not a "path", it's more like the tracks have been recorded in a random sequence. At the end we have two half albums. I would have preferred to have the "Kraftwerk-like" tracks on a side of the vinyl and the "TD-like" tracks on the other.

Looking at the single track types, Rote Riki for the psych type and Rosa for the electronic are my favourite tracks, but the average level is good throughout all the tracks.

Good krautrock stuff, maybe a bit dated but good.

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Send comments to octopus-4 (BETA) | Report this review (#299911)
Posted Tuesday, September 21, 2010 | Review Permalink
Tom Ozric
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars CLUSTER, not unlike KRAFTWERK, comprised of an experimental electronics duo, Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius. This 1974 release, 'Zuckerzeit', was produced by Cluster and MICHAEL ROTHER and sees the pair toying around with electronic rhythm-boxes, Farfisa and Davoli synthesisers, as well as organs and pianos (and some guitars). The approach they've taken here draws parallels with Kraftwerk's 'Ralf and Florian' album, and one can also see how a certain fellow, commonly known to many as ENO, latched onto these guys. To briefly describe each piece - Side 1 opens with 'Hollywood', an oddly composed piece with its bizarrely programmed, off-beat electronic rhythms and synth - how on earth you program a rhythm-box like this I don't know, must be some weird loop arrangement. The lead synth sounds very much like a violin. 'Caramel' is upbeat and treads synth-pop territory. 'Rote Riki' is the long-ish piece at 6.10, and is a choice cut with strange sounds swirling over a slow beat. Very spacey, even a frad quirky and is closest to their previous work. 'Rosa' is pure Eno (or could it be Eno is pure Cluster ?....) - from the beats, to the sounds and more so the melodies created here - it wouldn't be out of place on his 'Another Green World' album. Side 2 opens with 'Caramba', a synthetic sounding two-chord jam complete with trippy guitar playing and has a slight hue of HAWKWIND to it. 'Fotschi Tong' is a gentle and nimble song - quite hypnotic. The repetitive 'James' features some guitars and a droney background, again very Krauty. 'Marzipan' is another tranquil piece similar to 'Rosa'. 'Rotor' is upbeat and poppish with weird synth sounds. The final track, 'Heisse Lippen' is short and sweet with similar instrumentation as the album opener. So, an engaging album which I enjoy a lot, not a jot of 'filler' and different enough from their earlier, more kosmiche experiments. 4 stars.

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Send comments to Tom Ozric (BETA) | Report this review (#397213)
Posted Thursday, February 10, 2011 | Review Permalink
Bonnek
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Metal Team
3 stars After two acclaimed cosmic electronic albums, Cluster made a complete left turn towards more concrete and shorter proto synth-pop, much like the direction Kraftwerk would take in the next couple of years. Apart from the bubbling dark space electronic of "Rote Riki", you will only find short minimalist experiments, with gentle melodic themes and soft rhythm box beats. No, this doesn't sound like anything from 1974.

The album is entirely instrumental and while all pieces are pleasant and fascinating, they lack that songwriting genius that Kraftwerk was blessed with, and as a result, the songs aren't always as memorable as you might wish. Still, this album is a landmark and it clearly must have caught the attention of one Brian Eno, who would collaborate on a later Cluster album and who would absorb all of their ideas in his own work and collaborations. The Bowie Berlin period would have sounded entirely different without this band.

Historic relevance aside, I find this album very enjoyable and captivating. The fact that it reminds me of the synth and rhythm box experiments of the early post-punk bands is a plus for me. 3.5 stars for sure.

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Send comments to Bonnek (BETA) | Report this review (#424327)
Posted Tuesday, March 29, 2011 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars When Moebius and Roedelius decided to call the third Cluster album Zuckerzeit - German for "sugar time" - many might have thought that was an unusual decision given the chilly, spacey textures that electronics-heavy Krautrock of the era (such as Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Temple or Klaus Schulze) was associated with. But actually, here Cluster do an excellent job of investing a little heart into proceedings, producing instrumental compositions which manage to touch on a wide variety of emotions over their running time. Think sugar as in "cute and playful" rather than sugar as in "porno soundtrack" and you're in the right general area for most of the tracks.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#1064954)
Posted Wednesday, October 23, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars 'Zuckerzeit' is the album where, all of a sudden, 'Cluster' became more tuneful and less industrial. It's a refreshing album - even today - where you'll find many artists trying to replicate this simple electronic sound. Back in '74 however, there's no mistaking the analogue technology at play, which I think is a wonderful thing.

Released around the same time as 'Kraftwerk's ' 'Autobahn' this stands up as being every bit as good if not better due to the undiluted electronic manner in which it's constructed. You won't find any flutes here folks. What you will discover is a fairly dominant 'rhythm box' which by serendipity fits perfectly with the electronic keyboards utilised throughout. It may remind listeners of Eno's early recordings - in particular 'Another Green World' which appears to use the same keyboards.

There's a degree of elegance in which Roedulius and Moebius construct this recording where they clearly don't give a hoot as to how it will be received. It's all very 'of the moment' and despite being far more tuneful than all previous releases, maintains a current of slight underlying threat. I'm sure Bowie took a lot of this on board his drug addled mind before fleeing to Berlin in '76 where he pulled together two of his best works.

The fact that the tunes are all quite short may lead you to the conclusion that this is, in fact , proto-synthpop. And you'd be right... There's no doubt that the form and structure of this album influenced many artists. The 4-4 western drum beat that 'Neu!' continually performed is -used frequently here too but without an actual drum kit, instead going for an all out electronic approach. This is a smashing little record who's name - 'Zuckerzeit' - fits perfectly after the apocalyptic first two recordings from '71 and '72 - which I have to admit to having a deeper affiliation to.

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Send comments to Dobermensch (BETA) | Report this review (#1086119)
Posted Thursday, December 05, 2013 | Review Permalink

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