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Neu!, "Neu!" & "2"

There's two types of people reading this electronic magazine: those who have heard of Neu! and those who actually own the bootleg CDs. If you're one of those who have heard of them and claim you don't know their music, you're most likely already familiar with their sound as it can be heard quite clearly in Stereolab, Echoboy, Legendary Pink Dots, Einsturzende Neubauten, Nurse With Wound, OOIOO, Couch, OMD, Wire, even early Smashing Pumpkins and the Blue Man Group, etc,... After two decades of compact disc technology, the timeless original three studio albums are finally officially available on CD. For those who own either the boots or the original LPs (heh), the treatment on these issues is well worth the wait.



Neu! - Neu!

Like any genre-defining musical term, at first 'Kraut Rock' got tagged to groups who shared members and ideals, but over time it became an overused catch phrase. (Consider other sub-rock genres like post-rock, math-rock, industrial, techno, gunge and how much Front 242 have in common with Throbbing Gristle!) It wasn't so much what similarities the original Krauts had with their music, but the similarities of what was absent: during the 60s and 70s chart-toppers like Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Cream and Elvis Presley were all ripping off black rhythm and blues singers, while Krauts like Can, Kraftwerk, Faust and Amon Duul stayed far away, with a soul-less, almost faceless exploration of psychedelics and technology, tone poems, Stockhausen and Moog synths. The term Krautrock soon became the tag to anything both German and rock oriented, Xhol Caravan for example completely embraces soul elements and emotive singing.
The eponymous debut is probably my favorite: the duo established their sound and developed it into six legendary, solid tunes of varying lengths into a wonderful 45 minutes. It was punchy beats, wakka-wakka rhythm guitars and backwards tape-manipulated long humming lead guitars experimenting with both consonance and dissonance, faceless and distant. Listening, it's easy to start singing Stereolab's "Jenny Ondioline" or "Simple Headphone Mind" and if you're new to Neu!, it hits you this predates the 'Lab over 20 years.

Neu! - Neu! 2

The follow-up, '2' however wastes a chunk of time playing with their records on different speeds. "Super" gets the treatment at 16, 45 and 78 (hmm, ever hear of the Duophonic Super 45's label?) '75' comes in a good second as they expanded their sound to include piano melodies and encompass beauty without compromising their edge. By now the group, now a quartet, have become able to do some soul bearing and quiet reflection while still keeping a decent amount of distance from stadium-rock wankery. While a swirly guitar and flange effect begins to creep into a very dated sound of the 1970s, the influence of a song like "Seeland" can be heard clear as day in Neubauten's "Stella Maris" from 1996, Trans Am's "Motr" from 1997, and even Macha/Bedhead's "Hey Goodbye" from 2000!