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Faust - Patchwork 1971-2002

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Artist: Faust

Album: Patchwork 1971-2002

Label: Staubgold

Review date: Nov. 18, 2002

A Tribute to Three Decades of Experimentation

As the album name implies, this is indeed a patchwork of recordings from the ground-breaking Faust. Original members Markus Detmer and Hans Joachim Irmler ransacked the band's archives to extract material spanning the group's 30 years of audio terrorism. These pieces, unsurprisingly, span a wide range of styles, from sound collage to fuzzed-out jams, and even occasional noise-drone. But thankfully, the results don't sound at all random.

Faust's story has become more familiar over the past few years, primarily due to their reappearance on the scene with albums released in the mid-90s by the Table of the Elements label. Their surprisingly anarchic live shows in the U.S., together with the Jim O'Rourke-produced album Rien, brought their name to the attention of a new generation. And when that new audience sought out the group's earlier recordings, there found a pleasant surprise – not only did these records avoid passé, their lively experimentation still sounded exciting.

What happens when you give a bunch of freaks the financial freedom to run riot in an expensive recording studio? Well, the results could be complete rubbish, of course, but in Faust's case they used the money from a new Virgin Records and created influential masterpieces of rough-hewn avant-rock experimentation. Albums like Faust, So Far, and particularly Faust Tapes spewed a combination of rock, free jazz, and even early electronic otherworldiness that, while occasionally lacking cohesion, set an example that's still a challenge to artists today.

Like the aforementioned Faust Tapes album from 1973, Patchwork is an album drawn from the band's collection of recordings, carefully edited to offer an ever-changing soundscape. One moment the band will be rocking out (see "Nervous"), then the next you'll be drawn into a world of drone and decay (see "Drone Organ"). While most of the pieces are internally cohesive, some are pure collages of disparate recordings, such as "Stretch Over All Times," which takes the sounds of a dining room combined with an industrial drill, fading into metallic tolling bells which then segue into an excerpt from the band's early song "It's a Rainy Day".

The album has been constructed in a thoughtful fashion, avoiding the risk that the various pieces would end up feeling like a mishmash of disconnected excerpts. Instead, this is like a travelogue of sorts, a bit of this and a bit of that connected by clever segues and proceeding in a seemingly natural fashion. Additionally, the cohesion here owes a great deal to the fact that Faust, over three decades, have remained true to their playful spirit of experimentation. The result is the rather amazing fact that the same band, 30 years later, has changed enough to not feel like an ancient artifact while still sounding true to what they were doing on their first recordings. Needless to say, it's difficult to think of any other bands about whom the same can be said.

Some of the highlights here include the excellent pure '73 krautrock of "A Seventies Event (edit)" and the terrific guitar-led jam from 1971, "Rittersleut & Anderes", represented by two excerpts. It features some fiery fuzz-guitar soloing that requires study by many contemporary psych-rock outfits. Then there's the blindingly heavy "Zerr:Aus" from 1971, showing that harrowing noise-rock like Skullflower has its predecessors, and the odd Barrett-esque psych-pop of "Stretch Out."

"Nervous" is one of the most recent tracks, a guitar rock song that brings home Faust's ahead-of-their-time role. It sounds as current as any indie rock (check that killer wah moment), while also sounding so similar in feeling to some of their earlier work that it helps make clear just how much Faust's 70's recordings presaged current musical events. As another example of their forward-thinking philosophy, check out the eerie, creepy collage work of "Out of our Prison," the last track on the album. If you play this for someone without telling them what it was, I very much doubt anyone would guess that it dates from 1974.

One element that really helps make this collection work is the band’s courage to add new sounds to existing recordings. The result is pieces like "Stretch Out," based on a song from 1972 but augmented with additional new sounds; likewise "Ironies," a collage of recordings from 1972, 1982, 1997, and 2002. Rather than consider the original recordings to be somehow holy and untouchable, Detmer, Irmler, and fellow editor Bruno Gebhard applied the same experimentation to the old as to the new. While the spirit of the originals remains intact, the willingness to continue the playfulness while creating this album contributes greatly to the listenability and cohesion.

Perhaps the best praise one can bestow on Patchwork 1971-2002 is the seeming irrelevance of its 30-year construction. If this had all been recorded by a new group this year, it would still be very impressive and enjoyable. That it's evidence of Faust's ongoing journey as they proceed into their fourth decade is merely icing on the cake.

By Mason Jones

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