on 9 January 2006
After Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius released Cluster II in 1972, they uprooted themselves from their base in Berlin and moved to the village of Forst in North-West Germany. It’s something of a cliché that bands like to get back to nature when they feel stale, sometimes heading for a rustic farmhouse in order to produce something rootsy, or a collection of traditional folk songs, but this is obviously difficult when you’re a synth-based duo producing seminal electronic music. Instead, Cluster were joined by Michael Rother of Neu!, with whom they formed Harmonia. Before releasing their debut, Musik Von Harmonia in 1974 though, Rother produced this album for Roedelius and Moebius.
Zuckerzeit (‘Sugar Time’) is well named, because after the stark and (at times) testing Cluster II, this is an altogether sweeter affair. The music here seems much denser, there’s more colour and a much greater degree of poppiness, all lending the album a pleasingly light and upbeat feel. One very obvious difference to Cluster II is the extensive use of drum machines, meaning that where tracks had previously consisted of layers of synthesiser noise, they now have a definite rhythm, seeming to free the melodic side of the band. Actually, I suppose this isn’t really a band at all: it’s an album put together by two separate artists operating under a collective title, with Moebius and Roedelius each contributing five tracks. Although this kind of behaviour rarely produces a unified outcome, here the album holds together nicely, possibly because this isn’t an album by a band on the point of disintegration – indeed, as both Cluster and Harmonia they were to continue working together to great effect for some time to come.
Where Cluster II had the feel of an album engineered in a lab, this actually feels like the result of two people having fun, and, as if to prove this, the first two tracks kick the album off in fine style. Roedelius’ ‘Hollywood’ is at once beautiful and playful: subtle melodies floating above the solid rhythmic anchor of a drum machine. As the song progresses, a further – almost discordant – wave of synthesiser noise is added, turning the song into something of a fusion of the best of Cluster II and their more accessible side. There is also something of the feel of Tangerine Dream about this track’s glacial stateliness, although it lacks the sprawling expanse of much of TD’s work. This would be a beautiful miniature in comparison to a vast Tangerine Dream musical landscape.
That Moebius’ ‘Caramel’ immediately matches the sweetness and wit of ‘Hollywood’ says much about the sheer quality of the material here. This track is a little more driven, propelled along by a drum machine and synth bassline, topped by bouncy keyboard progressions and a quavering, ethereal melody. And although the longest track here, ‘Rote Riki’, harks back to some of the less accessible parts of Cluster II as it meanders aimlessly back and forth over harsh electronic rhythms, most of the rest of the album is as tightly focused as these openers.
Good things abound here; from the elegant and beautiful ‘Rosa’, through the more spacey and forceful ‘Caramba’, the eerie, plucked guitar of ‘James’ and the odd, popping rush of ‘Rotor’ this is vibrant, innovative music.
One of the pleasures of this record is growing to hear the distinctions between the music of the two composers: Moebius seems to be largely more adventurous and unconventional in his structures and ideas, while Roedelius seems to provide more of the album’s prettiness and grace. In a way this makes Roedelius’ songs seem more nakedly personal (possibly an odd thing to say of instrumental electronic music), but between them the two seem to strike a fine balance between beauty and invention.
Unlike its predecessor, I could happily put this album on for ‘fun’ listening, Cluster II is good, but it’s certainly less of a listener friendly proposition; less welcoming and less accessible. Additionally, this record seems to more clearly highlight the cross-pollination effect of Krautrock, as there are elements of Neu! – unsurprisingly – Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk here, just as surely as there are elements of Cluster’s music in the works of those great artists too.
Although Cluster are less well known than the likes of Kraftwerk, this material deserves to be considered as being as influential and important in the development of electronic music. This is powerful and creative music making, and for anyone looking to venture into the less Rock side of Krautrock, or into groundbreaking electronic music, it’s a very fine place to start.
on 31 May 2011
This review mostly will consist of the query, already asked, as to why this great album has till now a grand total of one review. This will only on the most superficial level redress the balance, and almost all I'm going to do is say that I love the album, unlike anything by anyone else, amongst other things for which Moebius and Roedelius should be as well known as Kraftwerk, and compared to whom an act like Neu are even, dare one say it, a little bland - a bit of a minority opinion I imagine.
If characters in a Brothers Grimm story stumbled across some cottage in the forest, emanating from which were peculiar odours and atmospheres, this could well be the album they'd be listening to or maybe making inside - allowing for those inside's fortunate encountering of 70s analogue synthesisers and iffy drum-machines. Upbeat, deep, warm, strange, even danceable, at times a little slight perhaps. Where an act like Kraftwerk seem to come out of the more 'civilized' refined tradition of Western culture, this one might argue bubbles up more from the fertile, more haphazard, folk underworld. Not though to get too worried about or carried away with such notions, it might contain a bit of truth. Just to add, along with checking out the Cluster offshoot Harmonia's work, Roedelius's Selbstportrait 1 album from this era is also a real treasure.
on 15 October 2015
This is the bedrock of modern electronic music and a remarkable achievement. Only short, but essential. There is a straight line from this to techno, ambient and bands like - for example - Radiohead, et al. At the centre of the movement crassly called Krautrock, this is stands shoulder-to-shoulder with similar innovators of the time like Can, Neu!, Kraftwerk, etc. and is a fine way to discover experimental music from this era.
on 11 September 2014
In my experience Dig-a-log with Lilith album pressings are very low quality with heavy distortion at both high and low ends of the frequency range. I've purchased two albums, the other is Zuckerzeit by Cluster, and they both suffer with poor audio quality. As most collectors know, vinyl is not cheap at £20 to £30 an album these days. I learnt the expensive way; parting with nearly £50 for two great albums that I can't listen to. I must hasten to add that I'm not in the retail record business. I'm just trying to alert potential purchasers to the possible pitfalls of new pressings. Buyer beware & be vigilant to save from disappointment.
on 15 November 2011
I bought this album having been impressed by the last track Heisse Lippen , which is on the compilation album Deutsche Elektronische Musik.It`s probably the best track on the album, which all begins well enough with the bouncy Hollywood and the slightly slower Caramel.Then it turns a bit experimental with the tracks Rote Riki and James which are full of weird and wonky sounds. Most of the other tracks are built around repetitive electronic drums, which drive the music on. All in all , it`s tracks are short and accessible , which means they don`t outstay their welcome.