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3.6 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 29 October 2010
Florian Fricke was reputedly the only German to possess a Moog when this album was made in 1970. I seem to recall reading that after he guested with it on Tangerine Dream's 'Zeit', he passed it on to them. At that time, synths were apparently difficult beasts to operate. Fricke moreover decided that the predominantly electronic approach to recording wasn't the route for him after 'Affenstunde'. Even so, to my mind the album holds up well, the only track I don't like being the second one which is basically a cacophony of percussion. Otherwise, the electronic backgrounds give a cosmic touch to the recordings. The ten-minute bonus track, 'Train Through Time', is also compelling, its relentless train rhythm combining with other sounds to ghostly effect.
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on 16 November 2005
It's a beautiful day in spring. All is green, birds are chirping in the distance, and the undergrowth rustles with life blooming after a long hard winter. We hear footsteps - someone is walking through the grass. Then this person suddenly stops and dives into the water with a splash; s/he is greeted by a dim but fascinating underwater landscape just as full of life as its counterpart on the surface, and s/he swims deeper into it out of sheer curiosity....
The paragraph above is how Popol Vuh's debut album "Affenstunde" begins. The listener goes through this underwater soundscape of eerie electronic tones and bubbling arpeggios, then goes into the darkest corners of the jungle, and finally comes to a clearing in bare, empty scrublands under a gloomy sky. Listening to this soundscape (spread across the first three tracks), it's easy to see why the director Werner Herzog later commisioned several soundtracks from the band; this album is mental cinema par excellence.
The title track is quite different, though - it begins with a crackling fire and some sort of bizarre ritual takes place around it, with heavy industrial-sounding percussion and sequencer lines not dissimilar to Terry Riley's "Persian Surgery Dervishes" (which was made about the same time). Many other things can be heard in the mix, including a (Mellotron?) choir and some field-recordings, but the sound is so muddy it's hard to tell individual sounds apart. Eventually, the ritual stops and some kind of synthesised bagpipe starts playing, and improvises a Celtic/Middle-Eastern type melody for the rest of the piece around which different sonic elements weave themselves. The piece eventually fades out after holding the floor for 18 minutes.
It's hard to give this album a rating on its musical merits - "Affenstunde" is (for the most part) so far removed from most music that the notions of 'melody', 'rhythm' etc. are made pretty redundant; however, it has fantastic timbral qualities and is a very compelling listen all round. The one real criticism I have is that the pieces don't develop much, and can be a little overlong, but Fricke & co. can be forgiven that since "Affenstunde" is a pioneering masterpiece of electronic music that's not at all dry or academic.
If you like this album, I can heartily recommend "In den Garten Pharaos", also by Popol Vuh; it was their second album, and the last with the big Moog synth that was used so extensively here - it was sold to Klaus Schulze in 1974, who then used it in his extraordinary albums "Moondawn", "Mirage", "X" etc. But that's a different story altogether....
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on 1 November 2007
I though I ought to quickly write something as the previous reviewer is writing about a completely different album, Ash Ra Tempel's first to be precise.

This album - Popol Vuh's first, dating from 1970 - is nothing like that album, consisting almost entirely of Moog noodling with purcussion.

The first album of it's kind in fact.

A definite landmark album, but I rarely listen to it preferring the albums that came after it...
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on 9 August 2006
It sounds like a couple of improvisations and basically that's what it was. Guitar bass drums and electronics, played in the distinctive Krautrock manner of early 70's electric musicians. This was new and exciting in 1972. Nowadays, some of the danger and excitement is perhaps dissipated because we have heard it all many times (although rarely done so well) during the subsequent 35 years. Just remember however that, apart from just a small handful of other seminal outfits (Velvet Underground and Amon Duul spring to mind) nobody had ever released this kind of record before.

On the A side of the original Liberty LP was a track entitled Amboss, lasting 19 minutes. Watch out for the fuzz guitar solo. Traummaschine on side B is 25 minutes and stranger still. This is edgy uncompromising music and you will either love it or hate it. Sorry I can't predict how you will react. You will not however be able to ignore it.

Later in their career, the various members of Popol Vuh dallied with vocal music, beautiful acoustic settings and electronic ambient drones. Much of that later music is beautiful or exceptional or both. This however is an early cutting edge rock album with drums and feedback and nervous tension. Even if you decide you don't like it, you owe it to yourself to take a listen.
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