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V/A - Cloud Cuckooland: 20 Garish Quills Plucked From The Plumage Of Krautrock’s Lesser Spotted Flock

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Artist: V/A

Album: Cloud Cuckooland: 20 Garish Quills Plucked From The Plumage Of Krautrock’s Lesser Spotted Flock

Label: B-Music

Review date: Sep. 24, 2010

In an Invisible Jukebox feature published by English magazine The Wire – a kind of blindfold audio test where musicians reveal themselves to be mere mortals – Jean-Herve Peron of Faust took the idea of ‘Krautrock’ to task. In short, he suggests Faust were the true keepers of the flame, one of the only German progressive rock groups who took the ‘Kraut’ in the term at its word, unshackling rock from its Anglo-American roots and trying to mould new, pliable rhythms and melodies from the form. It’s a brilliant idea if only because, in a few short sentences, it lets Faust lay claim to the title. (They might share it with NEU! and Can, at a push.)

But Krautrock really was a much broader church, and to prove the point, here’s Cloud Cuckooland, which loudly trumpets its status on its front cover – ’20 garish quills plucked from the plumage of Krautrock’s lesser-spotted flock’. A compilation of tracks from the first phase of the Kuckuck label, run by the redoubtable Eckhart Rahn, it’s yet another stop in Finders Keepers’ rolling travelogue, uncovering the music buried under the canon, country by country. An admirable pursuit, surely, though with Cloud Cuckooland, one question remains unaddressed – how much second-rate progressive rock does a listener really need?

This is not to deny the broader historical and socio-political implications of the collection. Uncovering songs recorded by Antiteater, a theatre group who contributed to soundtracks for Rainer Werner Fassbinder films, Finders Keepers further their admirable drive to document the audio at the outer fringes of art cinema (see their earlier releases of the Daisies and Valerie soundtracks). The songs themselves are fair-to-middling examples of groupthink folk/pop/rock and theatre pieces, with a frisson of agit-prop. But hey, it’s an important discovery, and if you’re a Fassbinder fan you need to hear it, stat.

Elsewhere, things get problematic. Out Of Focus and Ihre Kinder have never been the top of my Krautrock list, and they fall into a particularly overpopulated field of European prog – 10 years ago, they would have been reissued on prog archive/imprint Garden Of Delights. Indeed, I first heard Armaggedon, the hard-rock representatives here, while flicking through the remaindered section of a friend’s CD collection: said friend would later gift me with ten Garden Of Delights compilations. The songs from these lesser-known groups, played with obvious sincerity and early ‘70s enthusiasm, nonetheless prove that canons are canons for a reason. And if progressive rock is a particular blind spot of mine, well, I can still tell between winners and losers, and big chunks of Cloud Cuckooland are inconsequential prog-by-rote.

It’s up to the left-of-fielders to redeem the compilation. Deuter’s banks of rustic electronics and monolithic, fuzzed-out guitars make for an agreeably crabby listen; Sam Spence’s cornball moog serenades are enjoyably cheesy, though if you passed them by on a library record you wouldn’t really pay them any mind. The most engaging thing here is Ernst Scultz’s “Paranoia Picknick”, simply for the what-the-fuckness of its sharp edit from roiling prog pandemonium to abstruse field recording dickery. (And his struggle with a typewriter, “10 Finger Blind”, is very fetching on first listen, even if it wears thin by the third spin.)

More of this madness would have been welcome – though to Finders Keepers’ credit, they’ve provided the listener with a very representative selection from Kuckuck’s early years. And if you want to dip your toes into the second and third tiers of German underground music from the ‘70s, Cloud Cuckooland is an ideal introduction. Who knows – it might save you a lot of money, not to mention time reading set sale lists.

By Jon Dale

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