Music

Bruce Haack: Farad: The Electric Voice

Bruce Haack is an important figure in the annals of electronic music. But once you’ve convinced your friends that you’re cool because you know about Bruce Haack, why on earth would you want to listen to his music?


Bruce Haack

Farad: The Electric Voice

Label: Stones Throw
US Release Date: 2010-10-19
UK Release Date: 2010-08-30
Label Website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

"I'm the party machine / No one like me," declares a vocodered Bruce Haack on "Party Machine", the stiff 1982 dance track that closes Farad: The Electric Voice. He's half right. There was certainly nobody like Haack, a pioneering creator of electronic musical gizmos and author of some of the weirdest kids' music the world has ever heard. In 1969, the man built a vocoder, named it "Farad", and started singing songs through it. Farad is the first career-spanning compilation of Haack's music for grownups, and it's full of sci-fi kitsch, electronic acid rock, and even some stuff that sounds like country and showtunes over cheap Casio beats. But be warned: under no imaginable circumstances could any of this music start a party.

Haack's name has long been a talisman for electronic music freaks like Add N to (X) and Beck, and sometimes you can hear the influence. Haack's only major label album, 1970's Electric Lucifer, blends electro chirps with Farfisa psych and hippy-dippy lyrics, a mix that seemed prescient in the late '90s when everybody got tired of angry guitar rock. With its loping-on-the-prairie beat and twangy Jew's harp effects, "Incantation" even resembles cinematic country music, an apt touchstone for a concept album about -- what? -- spreading "powerlove" to the frontiers or something. Trust me, it doesn't matter. Lucifer only accounts for three of Farad's 16 songs, and once they're over, things go downhill pretty quickly.

Not surprisingly, there's a huge dip in sound quality from the Lucifer tracks, released by the wealthy adventurers at Columbia Records, to Haack's later music, released on his own Dimension 5 label. The songs from 1978's Haackula and 1979's Electric Lucifer II are borderline unlistenable, and 1981's Bite is only a hair better. The biggest problem is the beats: they're murky, muffled things, seemingly overheard through the wall from a neighbor's apartment and committed to tape. "Dinky" is not too strong a word. Two songs from Lucifer II, "Ancient Mariner" and "Stand Up", even boast the same flaccid little pattern. Bite at least deploys its robo-drum fills with a sense of cheek, relentlessly and playfully, but there's little life in the sorta-polka "Program Me" and the sorta-bossa "Snow Job".

Lo-fi music sometimes gets a pass on normal standards of execution because it does other things well -- maybe it creates a sense of menace or mystery, or it boasts Guided By Voices-worthy tunes. Haack's music does neither. Despite using sounds that few people had ever heard, Haack wrote some pretty cloying songs. "Maybe This Song", from 1971's Together, is cheesy folk-pop the Byrds would have rejected. "National Anthem to the Moon" is a minor-key future dirge in the manner of Zager and Evans, but it lacks the crackpot details that make "In the Year 2525" so entertaining. The one standout -- and maybe the best reason to hear this album -- is the previously unreleased "Rita", almost as catchy as the Beatles' "Lovely Rita". The beat still isn't much, but Haack's robo-voice is loose and plucky. There's also a limp cover of John Jacob Niles's "I Wonder as I Wander" -- here titled "The King" -- which would be a fine novelty for a holiday mix, alongside Bar/None’s The American Song-Poem Christmas anthology. You'd only have to hear 'em once a year!

Look, it's obvious why Haack is important in the annals of electronic music. Famous musicians dig him, he beat Kraftwerk to the musical vocoder punch, and he released two albums called Electric Lucifer. These are noble achievements. But once you've convinced your friends that you're cooler than them because you know about Bruce Haack, why on earth would you want to listen to his music?

2

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.