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LP Feature/ Cut Iowa Network: "Projector Gunship Held {Ø}"; Locrian: "Greyfield Shrines", "Rhetoric of Surfaces"; Taiga: "hsheal"

img  Tobias

What is it about Krautrock? What invisible force makes musicians pick up their instruments to try and follow in the footsteps of bands which were obviously deeply rooted in era-specific philosphies and sometimes hardly knew what they were doing? One thing's for sure: Even though love, peace and politics are no longer part of the program, artistic parallels between the golden yesteryears of the German music scene and recent developments in the most diverse corners of the experimental community are certainly becoming more and more obvious with each day. From Drone and Doom to Stoner Rock and improvised Soundscapes, the combined shadows of bands like Can, early Tangerine Dream, Ashra, Faust and Neu! are looming large. While a backwards-oriented copycat mentality appears to be the norm amidst the stagflating pool of retro-worshippers, a select group of artists have used the inspiration from long ago to come up with highly personal statements.

One of them are Cut Iowa Network. Starting with the title of their current full-length „Projector Gunship Held {Ø}“, the freewheeling pace of their release schedule (these more than sixty minutes of music arrive a mere two months after their „Junkyard Transmissions“ debut) and the format it has been released on (Double Vinyl) to its inclusion into an ambitious tryptich, everything about this album points in the direction of the 70s. There's a maximum of two epic tracks per side, with most pieces consisting of hazy grooves slowly peeling themselves off woozy trance-textures and then drifting gracefully along the horizon, ultimately dissolving into the distant darkness with a silent implosion. An unobtrusive minimalism dominates the development of the music, with intermittantly appearing tones or inverse melodic fields, undulating melancholically before finally fading out, acting as druggy Leitmotifs.

One of the appealing aspects about Cut Iowa Network is how openly they're allowing their audience to perceive and appreciate the individual contributions by their respective members: Tim Evans is responsible for the dense atmospherics of the group, using repetitive Rhodes melodies, psychedelic Guitar lines, surreal tape loops and displaced sound effects to build up a tight web of outwardly unconnected but, as closer inspection and full immersion reveal, seminally interrelated elements, while Adam Barringer's Bass provides an organic rhythmical metronome as well as a warm, peaceful and almost textural low-end vibration. It is Drummer Steve d'Enton, however, who consitutes the gravitational heart of the band. It is as if his partners were playing both with and against him: d'Enton's ultra-reduced, postrocking Jazz-propulsion constitutes a concrete lens through which his trio-partners' cosmic allusions are spectrally broken into humanly visible colours. Space, it emerges, is not a barren vacuume for Cut Iowa Network, but a starry-eyed wonderland: Had Douglas Adams lived longer, he would surely have included this band in the next volume of his „Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy“.

Most people's understanding of Krautrock, as already mentioned in the first episode of our Krautrock-Review-Special, rarely extends beyond the notion of long pieces and the cosmic factor. What they forget is that when a band like Ashra recorded their doleful descent into Hades, „Join Inn“, for example, they still firmly considered themselves Rock n Roll. Focussing on the raw power of Guitar, Bass and Keyboards shot through fields of feedback, waves of distortion and walls of tapenoise amplified by gigantic speakers, Chicago-based twopiece Locrian have adapted this mentality to arrive at a completely unique blend of Noise, Ambient and the burning embers of what once were songs about love, pain, hope and destruction. Beauty and brutality are closely connected here, with anthemic themes drenched in cathedral reverb either mutilated to the point of complete deformation or carefully adorned by sheets of suspensefully humming drones and tender harmonics.

It is an emotional bipolarity which has become a trademark of all their current releases. Most obviously so on „Greyfield Shrines“, a stunningly presented LP  on grey marbled Vinyl and recorded live for a session with local radio station Pure Hype WHPK 88.5 FM. While the A-side opens with a deep, sustained bass breath and then follows a depressive Guitar motive down into a nightmarish frenzy, enriching it with ghoulish howls and bent tones at the verge of insanity, the flipside represents the contorted mirror image of this gothic vision, taking all elements to a state of instability and frightful blur. Even this terrorscape, however, is still washed over by dreamy bell sounds and strangely soothing din, turning what could potentially be a majorly uneasy listening session into an astral trip.

The same sensation prevails on „Rhetoric of Surfaces“, a carefully compiled cross-breed between archival or previously unreleased works and extracts from out-of-print tape publications. All of the pieces here are extremely physical, the CD format seeming almost too clean for the dirty and direct bulldog-sound of tracks like „Drosscape“. And yet, tenderly tactile excursions such as twenty-minute „Gruen Transfers“ or the eighteen-minute ponderings of plaintive closer „Amps into Instruments“ are the stuff that will have you fumbling for your flashlight in your room at night, afraid to close your eyes and moved to tears at the same time.

One would perhaps have expected Bryant Clifford Meyer, Keyboarder of a-category-of-their-own Heavy-Post-Sludge Rockers Isis, to come up with a similar momentous in-your-face approach. Instead, „hsheal“, released under the taiga moniker, has turned out a zero-gravity, darkly ethereal Ambient album flourescing in the same impressionist watercolours bleeding into liquid forms on the record cover. Even though these six tracks, ranging between breathtakingly out-of-time reveries and efervescent hazescapes, are essentially built on repetitive patterns, they all convey a pervasive sense of constant mutability and of floating over an infinite and silent ocean deprived of your body but with increased sensory awareness. Even though opener „the fifth trunk“ still thrives on rippling bass sonorities, the remaining tracks hover so high above the waves that the lower end of the sonic spectrum completely disappears. The result is a refined, microparticulate and weightless sound composed of bright tonal dabbers, overlapping marimba sequences and angelic drones, breathing all but imperceptibly like a newly born baby in a cradle.

On some of the beforementioned albums, the Krautrock aspect, at least partially, consisted not only in perfect imitation but paradoxically in failing to achieve what you originally set out to do. Judging from the press release, Cut Iowa Network, for example, were looking for a heavy, doom-laden sound and ended up with a pulsating, percussive and yet laid-back production. „hsheal“ differs in this respect, as it seems a precisely realised work. All but imperceptible variations of a melody or secretively introduced sidethemes make for subtle shifts in the listener's subconsciousness, pushing him forward and pulling him back, lifting him up and pinning him down all at the same time. The result is a sensation of complete timelessness and the irrelevance of space. Sounds, and on one occasion even tentative traces of rhythm, pop up out of nowhere, linger in the air for what seems like an eternity or just a few seconds and then disappear to some mysterious place outside of our grasp. Even though these ambiances are never open allusions to the past, their cyclical character and their reaching-out for eternity justify the label's mentioning acts like  Brian Eno, Cluster and Terry Riley: The best way to listen to „hsheal“ is to neglect its intricate build-up and to keep it spinning for hours on end.

By  Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Cut Iowa Network
Homepage: Panic Arrest Records
Homepage: Locrian
Homepage: Conspiracy Records

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