[24 March 2009]
Can transformed into a bunch of softcore world music enthusiasts. Kraftwerk disowned their art school roots and dedicated themselves to futurist pop. Among Duul II and Guru Guru refined their prog-metal edges to the cornball extreme like Guru Guru’s Brain Records labelmates the Scorpions. Once fiercely dissonant groups like the psychedelic noise of Ash Ra Tempel and the more industrial Kluster transmogrified into puddles of plinky synth new ageisms. In the case of Tangerine Dream, they got so placid that even 1980s melodramas sat up and took notice. But Faust, even though they imploded for well over a decade, were always Faust.
Say what you will about the work the band has put out since their return to the scene in 1995 with the Jim O’Rourke/Keiji Haino collaboration Rien, but one thing it is certainly not is compromised. They carry with them the same experimental spirit that the massive cut-up jams of their earliest albums like Faust and So Far had, exploring music’s margins and turning the old formulas on their head.
To be fair to the rest of Krautrock’s granddads and dinosaurs, Faust only kept sounding like Faust because Faust had already mapped out a pretty vast terrain of what a Faust album could sound like. It has been said that the genealogy and etiology of all the important independent music that followed can be found on The Faust Tapes, and if not there, surely the rest of their 1970s catalogue can suffice in the short-term.
The song title “Stretch Out Time” from The Faust Tapes—also the title of the only biography published on the band—is an apropos motto for the band’s methodical approach towards songwriting. Faust has examined time by playing really long and really short songs, often stitching together their freeform pastiches from separate stations. They’ve used their own 40-year career to create a longform piece that functions more as an album than a compilation (Patchwork), used mashups of a year’s worth of live improv-based shows to make one of their most cohesive, sickly dark, and greatest albums (Ravvivando), and abandoned traditional song structures to disorient the listeners from the clock. To facilitate the latter, the band often turns to minimalism, which is exactly what they’ve done on C’est Com…Com…Compliqué. But beyond the usual selection of organ drones, the band achieves this minimalism in a most peculiar way—through rhythmic percussion.
Much of the album sounds like drummer Warner “Zappi” Diermaier is playing both sticks with one hand. The result is oddly tribal, in a bizarrely Western way, somewhat like using a commercial drum kit as an indigenous instrument, an anthropological examination of Western instruments for nativist music. Perhaps a good corollary of the effect might be the electro-toms of Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, though the effects of these two albums are directly diametric to one another, poled between futurist primitivism and Jurassic-aged nowism.
The album opener “Kundalini Tremolos” is a great example of the drumming effect, though it’s one of the more sauntering tracks on the album. Appropriately enough, the song is a bit of a yogic meditation with a very Eastern feel, pranayamic forced breathing sessions at the fore, and the titular tremolos stuttering to and fro over loose bouts of tambourine and chimes. The warpath drums are limited to just the metronomic beat of the song and, with all the wild fuzz behind it, sounds like it’s coming from a different world.
“Kundalini Tremolos” reminds the listener a bit of the interludes found between the eardrum-rupturing sheets of noise on an Acid Mothers Temple album, but by the third track (“Ce Chemin Est La Bon”) it seems the album is still waiting to be born. Both “Accroché À Tes Lèvres” and “Ce Chemin Est La Bon” follow an inverted rock narrative. Whereas most bands (particularly psych groups) would spend a minute warming up to seven minutes of locked-groove jamming, Faust spends these two songs lingering gently along a drone for seven minutes a piece, leaving a minute or so to speak its melodic piece. Then, just as things are getting satisfying at the end of “Ce Chemin Est La Bon”, Faust stretch out time yet again with their attempt at Tuvan throat singing.
With all the stalling, it makes the album feel a bit…long. These inversions are Faust’s bread and butter, though, and the release of the album functions also as a kind of inverse of the normal Faust blueprint wherein jam sessions are chopped and reassembled. Instead, Faust released the original sessions that eventually became disconnected, their collaboration with Steve Stapleton, which bears only very faint resemblance to the songs before us on C’est Com…Com..Compliqué.
By keeping us on our toes, the listener is gifted with a Sonic Youth-style jam that mutates into a classical-music looping dirge (“Bonjour Giacchino”), a baroque Spanish-tinged sad anthem (“Petits Sons Appétissants”), and a sunbaked post-rock fever dream (“Lass Mich, Version Originale”), amongst others. As with all well-meaning experiments, not all the alchemy is expert, but history has never seen a more satisfyingly sloppy band than Faust; the band who, after all these years, has never sold their souls.