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Holger Czukay - Der Osten Ist Rot CD (album) cover

DER OSTEN IST ROT

Holger Czukay

Krautrock


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Neu!mann
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Holger Czukay's fourth solo album found the always unpredictable ex-CAN bass player working in a shorter format, with most of the selections here clocking in at less than four minutes, and hardly stretching the limits of his idiosyncratic talent. The majority of the cuts could almost be called negligible filler, with two notable exceptions, worth the purchase price all by themselves.

The first is the amazing title track, an affectionate (if suitably loony) Krautrock demolition of the Red Chinese national anthem, with Czukay and Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit interrupting and embellishing a legitimate orchestral arrangement of the piece: Czukay on guitar and his ubiquitous French horn, and Liebezeit attacking his timbales with raucous abandon. Haphazard editing gives the song a peculiar spasmodic momentum, making it sound not unlike an extension of their former band's beloved Ethnological Forgery Series of cross-cultural hybrid experiments.

In contrast is the uncanny album closer "Träum Mal Wieder" (rough translation: "Dream Time Again"), a model of ambient subtlety at the opposite end of the musical spectrum. Ghostly Arabic radio waves, understated electronics, and Liebezeit's evocative voodoo percussion all combine into a soundscape of otherworldly beauty and power.

The rest of the album can't help but suffer by comparison, playing more like a series of loosely organized and half-assembles sketches, although Czukay's trademark humor and offhand studio wizardry is everywhere in evidence. The bluntly titled "Photo Song" is a simple, upbeat approximation of a genuine pop composition; the toneless warble of Czukay's girlfriend in "Michy" is a throwback to Damo Suzuki's brainwave mumbling on earlier Can recordings; and on "Rhönrad" a cheap piano rehearses what sounds like a Folies Bergere number over Czukay's usual background of pirated Middle Eastern radio signals, judging by the static from a station just beyond optimum transmission range.

The scant 39-minute running time of the album is a liability, but most of it, including all the highlights mentioned here, was later combined with Czukay's subsequent (and excellent) "Rome Remains Rome" LP onto a single CD, long out of print but well worth a search for anyone wanting an ideal introduction to one of the true musical misfits of our time.

As a postscript, it might also be worth noting that Czukay was approaching 50 years of age when he recorded this set, and showing no signs that he was ready to slow down.

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Send comments to Neu!mann (BETA) | Report this review (#75661)
Posted Thursday, April 20, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars You've got to have the last track "Traeum mal wieder"! It's ABSOLUTELY essential! For me at least this is one of the best things ever recorded. It conveys the deep meditative impression better than any other music I know that when you really listen to your own body and mind, the whole world is a part of you and you are not as an individual separated from the world. Some of the used sounds speak to the deepest layers of my soul. But it's not "new age"; you'll come across more edgy parts of the world and of yourself here as well. It also opens a new direction for Holger to go on many of his later releases (although not the next one Rome remains Rome). Really, get this! Actually there are possibilities to get this track other than buying "Der Osten ist Rot"; it's also on the CD made up of the best of this album and "Rome", and Holger has lately offered a remix of it on vinyl on his website ("Dream Again"), which doesn't do any harm to the qualities of the original. Not sure whether this is still on sale.

The complaint I have about the remainder of this album is that apart from "Traeum mal wieder", it mostly sounds like toying around with ideas without really elaborating them, and some jokes. "Traeum mal wieder" is very serious, deep music, whereas everything else is rather "fun", and much more lightweight on the musical side.

It isn't all bad though. The title track is a nice experiment deconstructing the Chinese national anthem (I believe), "Das Massenmedium" ("mass media make stupid, stupid, stupid") is a joke but musically tasteful and good to listen to, and "Michy" works fairly well as an improvised minimalist experiment. Otherwise there is more stuff based on field and radio recordings and voices, some strange Holger humour, and some toy melodies. I guess that Holger tried to make "Photo Song" kind of commercial, but his musical brain is much too twisted to get such a thing done, so Photo Song is rather a somewhat skewed children's melody with some charm but hardly any commercial appeal. Again, it qualifies as "fun" but not as serious music. Of course Holger doesn't take himself all too seriously, so you can't really blame him for this, but as a music lover, you'd probably prefer to get 40 minutes of the top quality he is able to deliver than 7 1/2 minutes of stunning music and >30 minutes of toying around, even though you gotta give to him that there is quite some variety and creativity here and as a Czukay fan I still would have wanted to have the >30 minutes of experiments and jokes, had he decided to publish a "100% quality music" album at the time.

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Send comments to Lewian (BETA) | Report this review (#1451461)
Posted Tuesday, August 11, 2015 | Review Permalink

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