on 22 March 2013
If you like vintage Kraftwerk you should really like this record. That's not to say it sounds exactly the same as any one of their albums; it most certainly doesn't but elements of the classic Kraftwerk sound abound and are cleverly interwoven into a batch of short (for that bands standards anyway) snappy and very poppy tunes. Listening to this album recalls the joy of hearing Trans Europe Express or The Man Machine for the first time. It is antiquated though and not remotely futuristic but technology has caught up and over-taken where the electronic pioneers stepped off. This album is quite nostalgic, or romantic even and exhibits a certain yearning for the simpler days when the future hadn't quite been invented but we could still dream about it.
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.
10 years after his previous collection - "Communication" - Karl Bartos releases his fourth solo album. The elephant in the room being his former band, and a shadow he cannot escape from, is that of Kraftwerk ; the straitjacket without whom he probably would not have risen to any prominence - and a word you will see a lot of in the next few paragraphs.
Indeed, this collection is largely made of reworked and completed sketches, experiments and demos he wrote during his tenure in the band from 1975-1990 - however, to call this 'Kraftwerk' rejects is both cruel, and not accurate. Hutter and Schneider were notorious for a glacial work rate, and a tightly held paranoid control over their work, resulting in six records with Bartos (including his uncredited appearance on "The Mix"), and just two - one a concert set - since his departure twenty two years ago. But ten years in the making, "Off The Record" sounds like his former band in an alternate universe, made of punchier, shorter, pop songs. Which proves how much contribution he made to the band, even if nobody really considered it at the time.
Despite being poorly sequenced - the lead single is also the worst song on the record by a mile - as "Atomium" is a vocoded hymn to the huge Brussels structure of the same name, the songs themselves here are solid, and dripping in riffs that could easily have fitted on any Kraftwerk record. With an average length of around four minutes, these suites, largely created on classic old synths and textured with dense arrangements that drip in melody and ideas.
Occasionally, Bartos mis-steps : the short 102 second "Binary Code" is a rollling arpeggio that seems taken from the Automatic Phillip Glass Riff Generator.. The opening rhythms to "Rhythmaus" and "Hausmusik" sound very much like a preset Casio jazz tone from 1982. Then again, the Japanese engineers who designed synths influenced the sound of that decade. Other times - "Instant Bayreuth" and "Hausmusik" for example, sound like long lost classics of decades past that for some baffling reason are only now being heard.
In the meantime though, "Off The Record" is to these ears, a continuation of Kraftwerk. The direction the band were facing when Bartos left is taken here : a combination of elegant synth textures and understated melodies, insistent and driving rhythms, and spacious production are matched to his restrained, precise language. Where it evidently differs from the other band, is in that Bartos writes livelier, faster material, with very specific pulsing bass lines and textured vocals through machines. From a flippant perspective, this guy is utterly influenced by Krafterk. Wait! He was in Kraftwerk! Oh, he's ripping himself off. It's like criticising Paul McCartney for making records that sound like he used to be in The Beatles.
Some of it, the keen eared will have heard before : "Music Ex Machina" is built from the same base as Electronic b-side "Imitation Of Life" (recorded during Bartos tenure as contributor to the band in 1994-1996). Other parts of it - "Rhythmus" - bear the same flavour as the "Computer World" title track with huge lashing of "Abzug / Metal On Metal". "Hausmusik" bears a resemblance in spirit and style to ancient (and long-deleted) Kraftwerk track "Dance Music". Nonetheless, it all sounds oddly familiar ; not as imitations of the past, but as visions of a future that could have been.
Lead single "Atomium" is the weakest track on the record. It sounds like a jingle advertising a building in Brussels, which it probably is. Heavy and primitive bass riffs and matched to discordant 50-film soundtrack style chords. It is, to be blunt, not very good by the standard. Which means it's bloody good by the standard of say, Keane.
To me, Bartos was at least as much a critical part of Kraftwerk as any other in forming the sound and melodies that characterised the band : and here it is evident in spades. The production is (be necessity) somewhat dated now - a vision of a future that, by the time it came to pass, was just normal. The future is here and now, and this, shows just how important Bartos was in shaping it in our ears.
on 16 May 2013
I love Kraftwerk, however consider some of their music too mechanical, too precise. This is electronic music of the highest order, but is not afraid to reflect the authors feelings and emotions, and it is all the better for it!
A great retrospective of Karl Bartos work.
on 26 August 2013
Bought this solo album from Karl Bartos since I've been a devotional follower of all of Kraftwerk's output ....
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 24 July 2013
I really enjoyed this, as for me there are no bad tracks. This will take you through Krafterwerkian nostalgia. The sound worlds seem to represent different Kraftwerk albums such as Man Machine, Computer World, Radio Activity and Trans Europe Express. There are also some pieces that are clearly not nostalgic but have equal standing. If you buy the vinyl you get the CD included so I wholly recommend this to electronic music listeners. This is so much better than his first solo album and although there is plenty of vocoder work it is not overbearing, which I felt the was the downfall of his first solo album.
on 23 April 2013
Karl Bartos' new album Off The Record goes a long way to showing that he contributed much more than just the electronic drum riffs on those classic Kraftwerk albums of the 70s and 80s. The new album is a veritable melody fest, all the more amazing in that all the music on the album was originally composed and noted down back in days when he was in Kraftwerk. It makes one wonder if these tunes where rejected by Ralf and Florian, and yet when you listen to Off The Record there are echoes from all the classic albums - it is obvious that much of the music here could have come from the same sessions that created The Model, Neon Lights, Computer World and many others. It is a shame that the album is under 40 minutes in length because with quality like this you want to hear more. Bottom line here is that Karl Bartos us due much more credit for the pre-techno Kraftwerk sound than he has been given. For many this the Kraftwerk album many of of us have been waiting decades for.
on 13 May 2013
If you're bored waiting for another decade for Ralf Hutter to bother making another album, here's a treat. Karl is obviously a (silicon) chip off the old block, and it's clear where many of the classic Kraftwerk melodies come from. He does get a bit bogged down in places, and you might argue that there are too many ideas on here, but still, it's fine. Try digging out an album he did quite a few years ago under the name Electrik Musik - it's probably even better.