Monday, July 23, 2007
This is one of the gems lurking in amongst the second line of Krautrock worthy of investigation after your Cans, Neu!s and Cosmic Jokers have permanently lodged themselves into your swirling brains. There are pitfalls aplenty when digging around in the piles of this stuff that are now available. Some German rock gargoyles have given me several moments of gut-wrenching disappointment – normally when they’ve let tepid, very white jazz-fusion enter into the equation. Infact the more I’ve scrabbled around, the more I’ve formulated a line in my head with mind-blowing Kosmische at one end and Toe-curling Jazz-prog at the other.
This Eroc album is one of the reasons I persist in running the gauntlet and taking gambles on the next Krautrock obscurity maybe coming up with the goods even after sometimes getting burnt fingers just as they’ve healed from the last time. The Eroc album is a record which seems to have missed re-appraisal even with the last decade’s resurgence of interest in Krautrock. This may be because this is a solo side-project of the drummer from Grobschnitt, Joachim Heinz Ehrig. By their nature solo side-projects don’t usually attract avid attention, particularly when they’re by a band’s drummer, but especially when that band is, from what I’ve read, a Yes-styled progmare of Jurassic proportions. However, in this case these factors actually seem to have conspired to produce an album of true beauty.
The fact that Eroc was born from Grobschnitt’s drumstool might make you think that this record will be all self-indulgent, bombastic Keith Moon flailing. This could hardly be further from the truth. The whole of the first side of the record contains no drums at all. Recording material for a solo album seems to have given Ehrig a sense of liberation which resulted in a record which adventurously explores the possibilities of all sorts of instrumentation and studio wizardry. The result manages to be a great mixture of music and moods whilst retaining focus by virtue of a slightly claustrophobic quality which could only come from this being the vision of one person.
The album’s opener starts almost imperceptibly as a discrete playground synth line slowly fades in. It starts to modulate until each note results in a full elastic-band stretch. Then in comes a beautiful playful little monophonic synth line, which can only be an impressionistic view of a little child at play (the track is called ‘Kleine Eva’ – Little Eva). Now that might sound mawkish, but it manages to avoid gooeyness because the synth playing is gorgeously restrained, steering clear of unnecessary virtuoso filigrees. Its repeated tune slowly accumulates rather than sailing away into noodle land. Then in comes a spinning set of modulating synth sounds which sound just like the most spaced out section of the ur-KLF/Orb album ‘Space’. This gives way to the playground spirit again. You can’t fail to be seduced by this track if you like Cluster’s playful ‘Zuckerzeit’ (Sugar Time), which could indeed have appropriately titled this track too. It’s almost 12 minutes long, but when it fades out it makes you want to petulantly stick your bottom lip out, like a child being told it’s time for bed: “No fair!”. However, the following track ‘Der Zauberers Traum’ (The Magician’s Dream) is just as gorgeous, except that the child has grown into an adult, but still hung-up on an entranced view of the beauty of the world. The track starts off sounding like the beginning of a ‘Phaedra’-era Tangerene Dream track, but then the sequenced synth line starts to sound more like it’s come from Irmin Schmidt’s systemic train-ride album ‘Toy Planet’. Then in comes a meandering monophonic synth sounding like some snake-charmer’s rare woodwind. The sequencers bubble away underneath, continually rising into view, then disappearing over the brow of the hill. It’s honey-sweet and delicious. The track is then interrupted by some German-spoken hilarity in the studio. ‘Die Music Vom “Ölberg”’ Is a tiny and silly marching synth theme, which I can imagine satirically sound-tracking sped-up film of Nazi soldiers marching around wartime Europe. It’s reminiscent of La Düsseldorf’s ‘Individuellos’ album, especially as Eroc stops it in its tracks by smashing a pane of glass then running away. ‘Norderland’ begins with smooth synth and gusting arctic winds. We’ve gone from child to adult again. Just as you’d begun to think this was another all-synth track, in crashes a fully-formed instrumental rock tune with drums, bass, and guitar. The tune is a plodding, drunken sounding thing, sound-tracking the slow progress of arctic explorers, but when the lead guitar joins in the aurora borealis appears and the explorers stare up at the beauty before them as the biting arctic winds tear around them, ignored. The ego-less Karoli-sounding guitar lines klang together in metallic harmonies. At points it sounds like a punk version of The Shadows mogadonned on Venus playing ‘Albatross’. That sounds awful, but this track transcends those references to create something which is all lush swaying gorgeousness way beyond anything The Shadows or Fleetwood Mac were capable of even imagining. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and has a right to find itself jammed right up on the Kosmische end of that line I was talking about earlier. The following track ‘Horrorgoll’ is a collaged Faust Tapes weirdathon shoved through a delay and morphed into a bizarre lysergic radio play. German spoken word fragments fly about as all sorts of electrickery is used to pull as much otherworldliness as possible from the material fed into Eroc’s aural mincing machines. Occasionally, especially when electronic sounds are involved, this sounds like Stockhausen’s tape work, but with a more blatantly psychedelic goal. A German ‘Revolution 9’ perhaps. Uncompromising, and successful because of it. The final track ‘Sternchen’ (Little Star), starts off with wobbly, watery sounding guitar, then in comes the bass and the other guitars which play a pretty, but melancholic instrumental song which would have any vocalist who’d tried to sing on it in floods of tears. This tune wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the most Krautrock-influenced bits of Blur’s ‘13’ album. An accordion even joins in, low in the mix as if to give your heartstrings a final subliminal little tug, if they needed it. Oh, and no drums. The final crescendo strum ends a two minute track which, as it dies away, resurfaces in a backwards coda, which sounds just as haunting as the tune did forwards. A great ending which leaves the mind wistful, but uplifted.
Eroc’s first album is brilliantly infused with the wonder of childhood AND adulthood. It’s a totally unselfconscious record, whose egoless 35 minutes let sincerity and simplicity shine through. And it’s got lovely tunes on it too. It brings smiles to my face and just makes me want to hug the man who made it.
review by Julian Cope