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Faust / So Far
Pitchfork Media, 26 Sep 2001
Ah, Germany in springtime. The leaves have returned, and the air is cool and of noble weightlessness. You can clearly see what the past has left behind in the medieval town squares, and hear the music of Bach's day playing continually from the opera houses and churches. Germans, like most of us, enjoy admiring nature. And since their cities have many parkland areas, it's no surprise to find the tourists crowding shops while the locals gaze in an auburn splendor. This is a country of quaint Bavarian villages and major metropolitan centers, majestic mountains and beautiful waterways, castles and culture. So, wouldn't it be nice if we dropped some acid, holed up like trolls and made an album?
Faust's records have never been the kind you dissect. The band seems to have some kind of plan at work, but not the type of plan left for others to follow. It's not the kind of algorithm that bears any scrutiny; yet, 30 years later, the music remains. And given the state of the boys in der Gruppe, that alone makes it worthy of reissue.
After spending several months in 1970-71 lazing, smoking, and existing rather superfluously (on Virgin Records' dime, of course), Faust moved their commune to Wümme in western Germany and decided to get serious. By serious, I mean they decided to put to tape the sugarplum visions in their heads. By sugarplum visions, I mean the acid-damaged prototypes of the New Solution for Music. By music, I mean their self-titled 1971 debut album and its contents, which consist of the music they played and processed using Kurt Graupner's infamous little black boxes. And by Kurt Graupner, I mean Faust's engineer, the sound wave saviour who, perhaps more than any other, was responsible for bringing the group's adventures in hi-fi to acetate.
Why Don't You Eat Carrots? gets the movement underway with a knall ("bang," my kliene Kinder). Actually, it's more like the wake of a small jet whose engine roar is panned out all over your speakers. In the jet's cockpit, we have All You Need is Love and Satisfaction blaring, if only to remind you that Faust were at one time human and listening to your music. Upon reaching an altitude of about 120 decibels, our captains decide to let the aerodynamic vehicle coast, dropping a vaguely Bill Evans-esque piano interlude before launching a vaguely Zappa-esque groove that features some vague kind of shinai solo (or maybe one of their homemade synthesizers). I wish I could translate the sheer romantic terror of the thing, but it's all rather vague.
Meadow Meal follows, and though the intensity has died down a bit, Faust still resides in the hall of mirrors. There doesn't seem to be much reason behind the stuff (other than the "wonderful wooden" variety), and though the by-product may be skewed art-pop along the lines of Throbbing Gristle or Nurse with Wound, the overwhelming vibe here is of playful curiosity rather than oppressive abstraction. After a mystical incantation ("And the guess I get it/ And the gate I get it/ And the game I get it"), they break into a trashy rock joint, shimmying like Monkees on parade. I suppose they couldn't have kept it down if they'd tried.
And that ends the program as Faust planned it: a total of about 18 minutes of music before running out of steam and/or money. What to do, then, but jam out the mother of all documented freak-outs. Miss Fortune is probably not Faust's greatest legacy, but it is a testament to some fairly unadulterated haze-charisma. Recorded live, it consists of two rock-esque instrumentals (again filtered through Graupner's little black boxes), and one fantastic piece of prose set to a ghostly backdrop of acoustic guitar and admirably understated shakers. "And at the end, realize that nobody knows if it really happened." And at the end, I say "amen."
Faust wasn't a hit by any stretch, but it was freakish enough to garner a cult following. So, with a small sect of the world waiting, the band retreated to Wümme again, presumably with the intention of making an album that you could at least play while sober. That album would turn out to be So Far, their 1972 sophomore release, and the record with which the press (or whomever it was covering them at the time-- probably just the NME's Ian MacDonald) caught up.
Within seconds, the change is obvious. The steady tom toms and insistent rhythm guitar of It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl aren't the work of the voodoo shamans on the last album - or maybe they are, but under pressure, perhaps Faust just betray their VU roots more readily (and simultaneously earn their Krautrock merit badge). But where there had been chaos, there was now tranquility; where there had grown paranoia and Dadaism, suddenly there sprouted mystique and atmosphere. A good start, but stay tuned.
After On the Way to Abamäe, we're given signs that all is not well in the Faust camp. No Harm begins with a drawn-out crescendo that leads into a horn-driven instrumental. That's about as much as I can say about it. It's sort of indistinct, but in the context of the album, and coming from this band, it seems either very campy and strange, or oddly comfortable. In any case, the feeling doesn't last long, as three minutes in, the tune transforms into feverish blues-rock, with the phrase, "Daddy take the banana, tomorrow is Sunday," repeated ad nauseam. You know Faust, right?
The funny part about Faust was, no matter how far out they got, they always came back. And on the title track, they trade in their acid wisdom for pure Kraut trance groove - though very different from Can's avant-funk or Neu's motorik beat - via horn punches and a galloping rhythm. And, like clockwork, just when you think they've managed the whole acid situation, Mamie introduces the buzzsaw of doom, replete with an intimidating synth force field and Moog vomit. Then, the chanting returns. The chanting! It's like some kind of game that only the Boredoms have figured out how to play since.
I could tell you that the next song goes back to sounding halfway normal (you know, that "kids in a dark studio with bipolar musos to the tune of a DeVry commercial" kind of normal), and that the last track tells you how many toes and ears you have, but you get the picture. It also asks, "I wonder how long this is gonna last?" and if I didn't know it lasted two or three more years, I'd say about ten minutes. In the end, history and I were wrong, because both of these albums have outrun all the detox statistics by maintaining a permanent place in the hearts of seemingly normal people everywhere. Okay, so it's probably mostly greasy lo-fi musicians and acidheads, but there are times when it doesn't pay to know the differenceDominique Leone, " ", Pitchfork Media 2001