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Popol Vuh - Best of Popol Vuh CD (album) cover


Popol Vuh



3.04 | 4 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Let's face it, this wasn't the best way to approach the music of Popol Vuh: on a cheap audio cassette salvaged from the closed stacks of my local Rust Belt library system. But for an ardent World Cinema snob it was a chance to become reacquainted with some classic film music from one of the more compelling filmmakers alive: Werner Herzog.

I'm convinced Herzog (and his Neuer Deutsche Film compatriot Wim Wenders, a partisan of CAN and NICK CAVE) must own the coolest music library on Earth. And in Florian Fricke he found an obvious kindred spirit: another pilgrim on a romantic quest for what the filmmaker calls 'ecstatic truth': those moments of transcendental awareness beyond the normal threshold of our everyday senses.

Herzog likes to discover such moments in his visionary films, often shot under extreme duress: on the slopes of an erupting volcano; in the raging apocalypse of post-war Kuwait; and (more dangerous than any of the above) in five features starring the volatile Klaus Kinski (it's a miracle they never killed each other). Fricke, the guiding force behind Popol Vuh, found his own epiphany as a pioneer of evocative instrumental World Music, at a time when the tag meant something more than just a crass marketing niche (the young BRIAN ENO borrowed a similar aesthetic after beginning his post-pop career as an ambient soundsmith).

Together, the combination of imagery and music can take your breath away, especially when experienced as the artists intended: on a real movie screen, in the shared privacy of a darkened theatre (sorry kids: home entertainment can't deliver the same visceral impact).

Who can forget the indelible opening moments of 1972's "Aguirre: der Zorn Gottes", revealing a line of Spanish conquistadors descending the sheer cliffs of the Peruvian Andes into a fog-shrouded Amazon rainforest, with the heavenly moog-choir of Popol Vuh's "Lacrime Di Re" filling the soundtrack? Or the lonely demise of the bandit Cobra Verde, at the end of the 1987 film of the same name, tossed like spindrift in the unforgiving surf of the West African Slave Coast? Or the astonishing sight of that huge steamship (pre-CG, and not a model) being hauled over a rugged jungle hill in 1982's "Fitzcarraldo"?

There was always something overtly sacred in the music of Popol Vuh, to which (I admit) I never responded as an aspiring Krautrock fan, coming of age in the 1970s: too many sitars and not enough sequencers was my knee-jerk teenage reaction back then. But it's that same, undefined spiritual quality that keeps the music fresh after so many decades, and helps distinguish it from the shallow New Age mush to which it's sometimes compared.

I'm not the first to suggest this collection needs extended re-packaging: see Syzygy's typically literate review of the more inclusive but still too abbreviated 1989 CD edition. The music certainly stands up well enough on its own, and listening to this selection is the next best thing to seeing the films again. But this flimsy compilation can only leave a hungry listener craving more.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |


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