Friday Full-Length: Guru Guru, UFO

Guru Guru, UFO (1970)

I will by no means ever declare myself an expert on krautrock. In fact, if you ever hear me do such a thing, that’s how you know it’s not really me and my brain has been taken over by aliens or tiny cyborg infiltrators. Or both! And that’s not for lack of interest — as recently as this morning I was comparing modern sounds to those of the classic age of German prog pioneered by bands like Guru Guru, Amon Düül II, Ash Ra Tempel, Can, Popol Vuh — not to mention Magma, Comus and an entire world of others from elsewhere. Mostly it’s for lack of time. As in “a lifetime,” which is what it would take by my estimate in terms of dedication to really, really become an expert on the style. It’s easy enough to identify when you hear it, whether that’s in the synth experimentalism of Tangerine Dream or the acidic freakout of Brainticket‘s 1971 debut, Cottonwoodhill (discussed here), but to truly understand the origins, multifaceted directions and intentions of the style? Yeah, sorry. You could get three Ph.D.s in that shit and still only half know what you’re talking about. Thus the disclaimer: I’m no expert.

Is that about to stop me from enjoying the view as the ooze lurches from my speakers while Guru Guru‘s “Stone In” begins to unfold its ultra-lysergic flow? Not a chance. Guru Guru came into being circa 1968 at the behest of drummer/vocalist Mani Neumeier, who still helms the band. They’ve put out over 40 albums in their near-half-century of history (hence “a lifetime” above), and 1970’s UFO carries the distinction of being the first of them. Comprised of five songs — three on side A, two longer ones for side B — it’s only about 37 minutes in its original, non-reissue form, and with the acknowledgement that ’70 was early in the development of krautrock as a style (an “expert” would know exactly when the term came about) compared to three or four years later, when the progressive sonic ideology had further sprouted from its roots, it’s not the most krautrock of krautrock releases. That is, what Neumeier was up to at the turn of that decade had more in common with jazz-infused kosmiche psychedelia, as one can hear in the sprawling jams of “Girl Call” or the exploratory 10-minute side-B opening title-track. Less progressive, more acid. That’s not a complaint. And one can hear the experimentalist bent in and between the songs on UFO that would over the next few years take the shape it did, “Girl Call” bleeding right into the electronics-bolstered jazzy skronk of “Next Time You See the Dalai Lama,” as Neumeier, bassist/noisemaker Uli Trepte and guitarist Ax Genrich find a place between all-out improvisational bliss and freakish stomps and crashes. UFO would mark the beginning point of the group’s development, and by no means the end, but as they feel their way through the strange swath of ground these tracks cover, one can hear, particularly with five decades of context behind it, the foundation of a lot of what they’d go on to accomplish over the subsequent years.

To wit, the atmospheric world-making of “UFO” and “Der LSD / Marsch” on side B. From an exploration of noise to ritualized psychedelic oddity, the second half of UFO is weird enough to make what Guru Guru were doing on side A seem straightforward in comparison. And clearly that’s the point. The jazz gets freer, the hair gets hairier, the push gets harder to resist. “UFO” itself is hypnotic in its way, but the eight-minute finale of “Der LSD / Marsch” is the moment at which freakism as an aesthetic statement really seems to codify. In the bass, maddening crash of cymbals and off-time pluck of guitar notes, it knows no bounds but still moves ahead in a linear progression toward a palpable apex, once more drenched in the most bizarre of the preceding years’ psych impulses, but clearly on its own “marsch” to someplace else.

Again, that’s easy to say with 40 records to back it up, and not something that probably anyone would’ve figured circa 1970. Intimidating and seemingly impenetrable though it may be, the discography of Guru Guru is nonetheless home to a universe of such delights, and as noted, Neumeier continues to create under the same banner to this day, whether it’s solo releases, collaborations with Acid Mothers Temple — you’ve probably heard of the Acid Mothers Guru Guru offshoot — or just touring as Guru Guru. He’s got dates this month and throughout the summer posted on his website, mostly in Japan with a couple fests in Europe as well. Some impulses simply will not be stopped.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Ups and downs today, huh? Turned into an eight-post day between this, the review earlier, the news about the Tour of the Doomed and Hans-Georg Bier passing away — both of which I saw just this morning — and the rest. Ups and downs. The whole week has been like that.

If you follow this site and in particular these Friday Full-Length posts and the kind of “how ya doin'” updates after the album rants, you’ll know I’ve been fretting for the last however long that my year-long work contract at Hasbro wouldn’t be picked up and I’d be once more relegated to unemployment. Well, that shoe dropped this week. I’m done in June.

This job has been far from perfect. Far from it. Perfect is you-stay-home-and-write-about-music-all-day-and-money-shows-up-in-your-bank-account. This hasn’t been that. It has, however, easily been the best gig I’ve ever had, and though I’ve had days here when I wanted to force a screwdriver into my eyeball owing either to the strains of corporate culture or the commute or my own apparently natural and inescapable propensity for being a miserable bastard, I’m sorry to see it come to an end. I’m part of a team of decent, mostly well-meaning people here, the work I do isn’t awful, and I’ve learned a lot over the last 10 months that I’ve been doing it, about the process, about myself and about what I want my life to be and what I don’t want it to be.

For example, I don’t want to work anymore, but I do need to earn some money. Protein powder might be 60 percent of what I consume in a given week at this point, but that shit ain’t cheap.

I don’t know how it’s all going to shake out — there are other contingency factors at play as well that I’ll talk about some other time — but finding that out on Wednesday morning sucked considerably.

A low point that made me even gladder next week is Roadburn. I fly out on Tuesday and have all the more reason to look forward to getting out of my own head for a few days, experiencing great music, great people and an environment that I’ve come over the last nine years to think of as kind of a second home. I’ll be covering it in the usual manner starting Wednesday. I do not expect to sleep much, eat much or do much beyond fold issues of Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, write and take pictures, and that’s gonna be just fine for a few days.

That’s the plan, anyhow. Still, because I’m compulsive, there’s a lot to cram in before I go. Here’s how it looks in the notes:

MON.: L’Ira del Baccano review/stream; Atala track premiere; Rattlesnake news (who’s Rattlesnake? Find out Monday).
TUE.: Sasquatch track premiere; Six Sigma review; The Obsessed interview (that interview might get moved to Wednesday).

There’s always something that comes up while I’m at Roadburn, be it big-type news that can’t be put off — i.e. Electric Wizard announces their new record or some shit like that — or whatever it might be, but with the caveat of any such wrenches in the gears, I can’t wait to get to Tilburg and get my brain melted. Crippled Black Phoenix and SubRosa open the Main Stage on Thursday. I’ll be there. If you’re going to be there, please say hi.

Like I said, ups and downs. Some you win, some you lose.

Thanks to everyone for reading this week. I hope you’re doing well and I hope you have a great and safe weekend ahead. If you get the chance, please check out the forum and the radio stream.

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