My journey deeper into krautrock continues, after recent purchases by Neu! and Amon Düül II, with the first two Faust albums. I've had them for a few weeks now and have been listening to both pretty religiously; in fact, I'd say these are my favorite kraut acquisitions of the year by far—not as cold as Neu!, not as aimless as ADII.
For the longest time I was put off by Faust, mostly because of their album covers and their band name, both of which radiate a kind of proto-goth/industrial vibe. Once again I was guilty of imagining what a band must sound like, only to find I was completely wrong. The music on these two records blends psychedelia, kraut, avant-garde tape-splicing, even hints of proto-punk at times. The tone of the records also slides from dark atmospherics to outright humor, each balancing out the other so as never to go over either edge.
In my Amon Düül post linked above I wondered how ADII could even be considered to be part of the same genre as a band like Can: Faust is the bridge. Just play Faust and So Far back to back and hear the former's closer, the sprawling spaceout "Miss Fortune," segue into the stripped-bare propulsion of "It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl." The evolution of Faust's sound from one record to the next might be seen as a microcosm of how at least some of their peers related to each other.
Faust is comprised of just three tracks (nine minutes, eight minutes, and sixteen minutes in length), each an amalgamation of many other fragments spliced together. The effect is something abstract, freeform, yet never without intent—there is an underlying compositional structure to the whole record (unlike ADII's improvisations). Opener "Why Don't You Eat Carrots" is abstract with elements of humor—some of the circuslike sounds remind me of the United States of America's self-titled album, released a couple years earlier. Elsewhere, the harmonized spoken/shouted lyrics at the core of "Meadow Meal," and the short, politically charged spoken outro of "Miss Fortune" remind me of Gang of Four's vocal approach in their classic "Anthrax." "Meadow Meal" is the real highlight of the first record. I was listening to both albums on shuffle along with a few other albums I'm into right now, and the song came on just after something from the Fiery Furnaces' Blueberry Boat. I felt the ancestral roots linking the two bands in their stitched-together aesthetics (though the Fiery Furnaces also have a maximalist math-rock thing going on as well... not Faustian).
It says something—about Faust or about my own taste, I don't know—that the vocal section of "Meadow Meal" is the best part of the record. It's the most structured section of the entire album, holding down what could otherwise feel meandering. With So Far, the band seemed to have learned that lesson and presented a batch of songs far more balanced. "It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl" is practically a pop song compared to everything they'd done prior—but it's also a kind of commentary on pop music of the era. The singers, in a loose harmony, intone the title lyric, an overtly cliche 60s pop image, juxtaposed with an otherwise anti-pop structure. The song is built around a simple 4/4 tom beat, joined incrementally by piano and guitar, each pounding out just a single chord. The song marches linearly—no chorus, no ringing guitars, no layered SoCal harmonies—until a wonderful sax solo hooks the ear right at the end, before the whole thing fades out.
The whole album is an exercise in balancing pop with anti-pop, structure with atmospherics. The ten-minute "No Harm" is all meandering atmosphere before coalescing into a barely contained nonsensical rocker—"Daddy! Take the banana! Tomorrow is Sunday!" The title track is a tightly wound, conservative-by-comparison instrumental, prodded along by a clockwork two-note horn riff, followed by the heady "Mamie is Blue," with its cult-like chants. "I've Got My Car and My TV" is almost like two or three Saturday morning cartoon theme songs spliced together; the bouncy, hypnotic riff taking up the second half of the song is the biggest earworm of the record.