West German rock from the 1970s and 80s tends to have a fairly futuristic vibe, smothered in inhuman electronics that streak ahead of contemporary music in other parts of the world, at least technologically. On Deutsche Elektronische Musik 3, the curators at Soul Jazz take a look past standards by Kraftwerk and Can, instead putting together a collection that is just as influenced by the smokier side of psych rock as it is sleek robotics. The artists featured here draw from the British and American rock of the time, and, like their Anglo counterparts, head eastward for some more modal inspiration.
The album blasts off with a track from Klauss Weiss: “Wide Open Space Motion”, every bit as retro and cosmic as it sounds, with jangling tambourines chugging along in the back. The compilation quickly comes back to Mother Earth for A.R. & Machines’ more folk-oriented “I’ll Be Your Singer, You’ll Be My Song”, largely played on acoustic guitar with the subtlest of vocal reverb to carry on the electronic theme of the album. Later on, tracks like Agitation Free’s droning “In the Silence of the Morning Sunrise” and Popul Vuh’s “Ja, Deine Liebe Ist Sußer Als Wein” will also evoke the Summer of Love, albeit with lusher melodic lines. Some tracks will drift in an even softer direction, like Roedelius’ delicate “Lustwandel”.
Several cuts draw on the exoticized East; Dzyan’s “Khali” folds Indian classical-inspired strings with bobbing and weaving electric guitar notes. Alèx draws on the hypnotic Turkish rock of the time for his dizzying “Derulé”, bağlama playing faster and faster notes over the piece. Weiss’ side project Niagara imbues “Rhythm Go” with hand-beaten rhythm, drawing on African and Latin American styles. Between’s “And the Waters Opened” is an 11-minute marvel that starts out as one of the slower pieces, but jumps into a lively frenzy of drumming for most of the last half of the track.
More expected synth-centric tracks make up a good portion of the album, too, of course; Georg Deuter’s “Pearls” is an early piece of ambient electronica that, though short, sparkles, and Novalis’s “Dronsz” takes a lounge sound and boosts it with engine sound effects that make it sound like the soundtrack to the final battle of a particularly intense 1980s video game. More straightforward rock makes appearances, too, both in the form of quick bites (the two-minute “White Overalls” by the band of the same name) and longer, more ecstatic chunks (Michael Bundt’s 12-minute “Neon”).
I could go on listing tracks for a while longer – the album comes out to an impressive 21 tracks – but Deutsche Elektronische Musik 3 isn’t about name-dropping, as tends to be the case with Soul Jazz compilations. This is an album about as much variety and diversity as can be packed into a single thematic compilation. It almost certainly won’t be what you expect going in, but it’s ready to blow your mind with sounds and songs you never knew you wanted and a much broader picture of vintage West Germany than perhaps any previous collection of tunes has given us thus far.