Krautrock is the genre of experimental music which flung itself out of the German coasts and into the hungover minds of the post-psychedelic mourners. The thing with krautrock is, that there’s no real way to ‘ease’ into it. Yeah, some of Neu!’s stuff might be a little lighter on than Can’s, but the essence of krautrock is so hypnotic and all-consuming, that it’s impossible to only dip a toe into its spiralling rapids and currents. Kraut is typically associated with mind melting lucidity and distortion of everyday noises with steady riffs, and perhaps a sickening combination of pretentiousness and marijuana. Though often overlooked, krautrock arguably pulled the rug from beneath the three-minute-pop-rock of the 70s, exposing an infinite ravine into which no artists had entered before, probably due to the lack of commercial success which lay within it. Whilst some of the bands in my rankings are debatable in the ‘kraut-ness’ of their techniques, each was birthed from the same sweet (judging by the music, perhaps more bitter actually) loins of the Deutschland counter-culture movement, far, far beyond their own time, and potentially still far beyond our own time.
NEU! – NEU! 2 (1973)
NEU! boarded the krautrock train into obscurity alongside fellow Kraut pioneers, Kraftwerk, churning out lengthy trips through innovative soundscapes, riddled with amalgamations of peculiar noises, buzzing through a heightened reverb. NEU! experimented with various techniques in their NEU! 2, most notably the stretched and compressed tempos of track ‘Super’, in ‘Super 16’ (slowed), and ‘Super 72’ (quickened). ‘Super’ has been dubbed the prototype for punk-rock, with undistinguishable growls echoing through the track, abandoning rock’s typical verse-chorus-verse establishment.
NEU! 2 includes Lila Engel, a moody number with sediments of heaviness which even Deep Purple failed to reach. Whilst The Velvet Underground and early Pink Floyd works have been considered to have influenced NEU!, tracks like ‘Fur Immer’ project the classic motorik (4/4) beat which is typical of kraut, making the album revolutionise rock, and prove that these kraut kids were truly unlike anything before them. Later on, NEU! created La Dusseldorf, another kraut sensation, but that was in 1976, so we don’t get to talk about that here.
Kraftwerk – Kraftwerk (1970)
Yes, this is the iconic symbol of kraut. Chances are if you’ve ever heard of Krautrock, it’s been because of the unmistakable roadwork cone stamped on the face of Kraftwerk’s EP, which was technically their second album, if you consider their earlier configuration as Organisation to be part of the oeuvre. Kraftwerk are generally deemed as the workhorses of the kraut movement, unapologetically ditching the rock and roll cart to build the kraut empire. This was the first kraut album I had been introduced to, and the unpredictability of it was both disassociating and captivating—it was frustrating that there was no rhyme or reason to ‘Ruckzuck’, but the non-linear chaos gripped and shook me.
The EP is comprised of only four tracks, each upwards of seven minutes, with ‘Stratovarius’ reaching twelve. ‘Stratovarius’, swerves through paranoia-inducing snippets of sound, with creaking footsteps dragging the listener towards techno steadiness and then hurling them back into the 4/4 realm, making it my favourite track of the album alongside ‘Megaherz’, simply due to its embodiment of all things kraut: the chaos, the avant garde, and the peculiarity of it all.
Gomorrha – Trauma (1970)
Three minutes into this, and you’ll probably be correct in challenging my categorisation of this LP as kraut. It sounds pretty classic psych-rock in the intro, but I reckon that’s just a ploy to lull listeners into the music so that before they know it, they’ve been sucked down the plughole of space-fuzz kraut without even realising it.
The album is different to other more ‘krautish’ records due to its lyrics, which aren’t reverberated into nonsensical snarls. The album peaks at the track ‘Trauma’, as the hypnosis intensifies into a rock-like mind-trip through deep and dark nuances of kraut, fractured by sinister drones of the organ.
Sunbirds – Sunbirds (1971)
Ever wanted to travel through space? If so, then give this album a listen. If not, then still give it a listen as it’ll probably validate your decision. Sunbird’s self-titled EP explodes in long-winded riffs, runs for upwards of 45 minutes (despite there only being two tracks), and warps soundscapes in a manner which gives new meaning to the term ‘space-rock’. Sunbirds drift through galactic haziness with underlying notions of jazz tethering them loosely from full-blown oblivion. This LP ingeniously pairs kraut innovation with whimsical nuances of the flute, establishing a haunting trip through the unknown.
The best number on the track is by far ‘Spanish Sun’, due to its uncompromising sense of self-appointed irreproachability, which oozes with attitude.
Can – Tago Mago (1971)
In this album, Can capture poignant simplicity in their riffs and beats, then brew them together with a heavy dose of instrumental abstraction, as siren-like cries spiral ominously throughout. The album artwork, depicting a distorted mind blurting out curls of its brain is a pretty accurate depiction of how this album feels to listen to.
The keyboard solos are seamlessly fused with the often improvised guitar solos, producing a sound which creeps around with a soothing yet stifling grip. My favourite track from this album has to be ‘Halleluwah’. ‘Halleluwah’ throbs with robotic sounds, constructed tediously upon the jazz-brushed drumming and sliding riffs. The number feels like a non-linear exploration, as the compiled components of the instrumental thunderhead shed down with in-your-face ferocity.
Hated all of that music? Well, probably steer clear of the contemporary embodiments of kraut, including Thee Oh Sees, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, and Psychic Paramount.