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Music Review: Harmonia ’76 – Tracks And Traces Re-Released

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"Krautrock" was a term coined by British journalists to describe German progressive rock, and was always meant in the most pejorative manner. Thanks in large part to Julian Cope’s (sadly out of print) book Krautrocksamper, the phrase is now a badge of honor.

Harmonia were something of a Krautrock super-group. Michael Rother of Neu! joined with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius of Cluster in 1973 to create the band.

Brian Eno was a big fan from the beginning, even appearing onstage with them in 1974. In 1976, he joined Harmonia in the studio, where they recorded the 12 songs that make up Tracks And Traces Re-Released.

For 20 years, these recordings had lain dormant, thought to be lost to the ages. When the tapes were discovered in the mid ‘90’s, they represented something akin to a Krautrock Holy Grail.

In 1997, Rykodisc released nine of the tracks as Tracks And Traces. Today, the Gronland label has come out with the definitive version. The three previously unreleased cuts only add up to about ten minute’s worth of music, but their inclusion alters the entire context.

The previous version opened with the somewhat unsettling “Vemos Companeros.” It was almost a step straight into the abyss. The Re-Release begins with "Welcome," a  beautiful proto-New Age piece which gently invites the listener in.

“Atmosphere” follows, and is aptly titled. It could have easily slotted in on Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene. The addition of this new material is seductive, and serves to clear the way for the more avant-garde material to follow. The effect is like an audio version of A Clockwork Orange.

The centerpiece (literally) is the 16 minute “Sometimes In Autumn.” This tour de force is a little slice of heaven to retro-futurists like myself. The synths may sound dated today, which is part of the charm, but the drones and repetitive motifs remain mesmerizing.

Nearly every song contains noteworthy elements, except for the lone vocal track, “Luneburg Heath.” Brian Eno’s flat intonation of the repeated line “Don’t get lost on Luneburg Heath," is out of place here. It is a minor complaint however, as the riches found on Tracks far outweigh this one misstep .

Tracks closes with “Aubade,”  the final of the three unreleased cuts. The record originally ended with “Traces,” 1:33 of enormous potential, which left one wanting more. By finishing with the very open and bright "Aubade," the disc ends in a positive, and satisfying way.

The additional three tracks included on Tracks And Traces Re-Released give it a remarkable feeling. Sort of like being immersed in a fascinating, if at times disturbing vision.

Like the best dreams, it is a place you instinctively want to return to.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • zingzing

    shackelton, one of the more scary artists out there right now, made a remix of “sometimes in autumn,” which was released either on or in conjunction with this.

    i love me some neu, and eno is a god, so i’ll be searching this out, even though i have no harmonia stuff. the cluster/eno collaborations always left me a bit cold, although i think it’s time to revisit them.

    faust rides into town on monday. i am so totally there.

  • zingzing

    shit! faust is tomorrow. and not sold out… crazy.

  • Greg Barbrick

    Zing,

    If you like Neu! and Eno, then I think you will like Harmonia. It is far less ambient than the Eno/Cluster collabs that came later. Faust would be great to see. Where are they playing?

  • zingzing

    they’re playing in brooklyn. music hall of williamsburg. gonna try my best to go.