Off The Record
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Off the Record
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The new album from Karl Bartos draws on sonic sketches he made during his time in Kraftwerk. 12 new tracks of iron crystal music, vocoder newspeak, robot sounds, digital glitch, techno pop, catchy melodies, electronic avant-garde and, of course, those rhythms!
Karl Bartos, a member of Kraftwerk between 1975 and 1990, has long kept a “secret acoustic diary”. And it’s to these various notes he turned when the Bureau B label asked him to assemble this collection of previously unissued early recordings.
Initially sceptical, Bartos gradually warmed to the concept. He had a wealth of material spanning 1975 to 1993, stored on a bewildering array of recording platforms. All of these were homogenised via transferral to his current computer.
It’s not quite clear from the excellent booklet notes how much Bartos has tinkered with the naked material. Whether he’s simply polished and edited, or whether he went in deep, re-recording and shifting around the internal organs. It’s difficult to judge the level of disguise, given that his studio still houses all the original equipment.
There’s a subtly menacing edge to the robo-vocals, some of which are genuinely inhuman, generated by vintage computer chip means. These artificial intelligences are not servants to humans, they’re a potential threat.
Likewise, the basslines are given a sympathetically grimy exterior. The cold keys infuse the songs with an often bland commerciality. The tempo is usually faster than most of Kraftwerk’s old output.
Nachtfahrt is sung in German, its chord progressions delivering the anticipated transitions. The vocodering is extreme for International Velvet, a cheesy platter, flutey sounds flitting over sterile orchestrations. “I wish I could remix my life to another beat,” Bartos pronounces on the lightweight bounce of Without a Trace of Emotion.
The oscillating spiral of The Binary Code provides a brief minimalist abstraction, swiftly followed by Musica Ex Machina, the most mechanical tune on the album, and also the catchiest.
The Tuning of the World is one of the best titles, but also the weakest song on board. Rhythmus has a pulverising beat, sounding the closest to the old Kraftwerk template, choral backing kicking in at its climax.
The results of this archive-trawl are just what a Kraftwerk disciple would expect – although on certain songs Bartos becomes even more hook-attuned than his old band, taking that tack a bit too far. It’s a mixed manifestation of electronic pop.
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Top customer reviews
highly recommended to fans old and new.
Thought it would be an ideal listen as Karl had been a original member of this great inspirational synth-pop pioneering quartet
in their most productive heyday era with albums like Trans Europe Express (1977) and Computer World (1981)....
The last album that he actually collaborated on was 1986's Electric Café and the band now with only one remaining founder
member, Ralph Hutter have only released one studio album since then in 2003, the mediocre Tour De France Soundtracks.
You may recall that Karl Bartos also collaborated with the talents of Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr and their 1996 Electronic
album Raise the Pressure .... On this solo album their are some great experimental tracks including the lead single, Atomium ... I am quite fond of other tracks such has Rythmus, The Binary Code, Vox Humania and Hausmusik ... A lot of the
tracks sound very much like they belong on a Kraftwerk record anyway with the unmistakeable characteristic typical Germanic minimalistic vocal and unique synthesiser sound that this former band made popular.... Indeed, this became the template for many of the other New Romantic and Futuristic synthesiser derivative bands like Human League, Depeche Mode, OMD and Ultravox that were to follow and become popular in the early 1980's .... Great album, definitely worth checking out !
On several occasions listening to this I thought about Blade Runner and more specifically, the Vangelis soundtrack album to the film. Thoughts of Fritz Lang inspired architecture and a distinctly retro image of the future come to mind. It's not dissimilar to watching 2001: A Space Odyssey and reflecting on the future as the past predicted it. So what do we have here? An album without a singular theme that contains audio sketches of ideas created when that colossus of electronic music was riding at its peak. It's uncertain how much post-production editing and remixing or restructuring of the original recorded elements has taken place retrospectively so it's difficult to say how much this is inspired by the former band or indeed might have influenced them when it first originated. Does it really matter? Karl was one of that band during its most creative period and since his departure it has made one album: Tour De France Soundtracks. That was hardly ground-breaking or representative of a prolific output. Bartos on the other hand whilst taking some time out of the professional music business to become a University Professor, has managed to produce four albums. Is Herr Karl the future of the band he once was a part of but hasn't been for 23 years? Maybe. We don't see much evidence of activity from Hutter where new music is concerned.
Either way it doesn't pay to pontificate too much. I think Bartos knows and Hutter certainly does that silence is a virtue. Both legacies are intact for posterity. With a low volume of output there is less room to put a foot wrong, something Bartos carefully and skillfully avoids doing here. For me, one particular highlight is the vocal interplay between Bartos and his robot doppelganger - pure existential genius and humour at work! "Atomium", the lead single is not especially representative of the rest of the album so do not be put off if you haven't yet warmed to its atomic iron crystal-like skeletal musical framework. The tone,texture and musical palette elsewhere is more varied and engaging. The music press has almost blithely written this off as an average dated synth pop album. I believe it is wrong. Musically, if not necessarily thematically, this album has more tunes and ideas than some of the better Kraftwerk albums. Yes, it really is that good. In fact I'm going to stick my neck out by stating that it could even be the best album made by Bartos or Kraftwerk ensemble since The Man Machine! What, better than Computer World even? Yes, I think it just might be. Listen very closely and you'll hear it. There is simple subtle genius at work here.
A great retrospective of Karl Bartos work.
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