Monday, October 10, 2016

Krautrock: Amon Düül II, Yeti (1970)

Amon Düül II titled its second release Yeti, evoking the legendary “abominable snowman” that has been part of Western popular culture since the 19th century -- an enormous ape-like figure heavily plodding the line between reality and imagination. As a double-LP with ambitions far exceeding the group’s 1969 debut, Phallus Dei, the group’s second release is similarly larger and more formidable, rightly regarded as early, important monument of Krautrock.

Setting the needle down on Side 1 sets things going with the four-part opening suite titled “Soap Shop Rock,” with the initial part (“Burning Sister”) a stop-and-go rocker that sonically resembles garage psyche of the era. A reduced-tempo variation on the theme follows, the title of which -- “Halluzination Guillotine” -- perhaps alluding to the grim reaper figure gracing Yeti’s cover.

About that -- the picture is of the Wolfgang Krischke, an early member of Amon Düül I and friend of Amon Düül II, swinging a scythe. Krischke died the year before Yeti’s release after freezing to death in a forest during an ill-fated LSD trip. The image subsequently became the band’s logo, and was also modified and used as the cover of Julian Cope’s Krautrocksampler.

“Soap Shop Rock” continues with a short, weird third section (“Gulp a Sonata”) featuring Chris Karrer and Renate Knaup singing a miniature avant-garde opera. Then the fourth and final part (“Flesh-Coloured Anti-Aircraft Alarm”) develops into an urgent, loud alarm (with Karrer’s violin prominent) -- probably the most “bad trip”-sounding sequence on either disc -- before resolving into a reprise of the opening theme. The first side then concludes soothingly with “She Came Through the Chimney” whose acoustic guitars picking out arpeggios sound all the more achingly sweet thanks to the contrast with what came before.

Side 2 starts with a short vocal showcase for Knaup, “Archangels Thunderbird,” whose intensity I find irresistible, although some may be less enamored. She’s not exactly a German Grace Slick, not having the range or dynamism of her Californian contemporary, but she’s every bit as earnest and (to me) more endearing. “Cerebus” comes next, an acoustic workout with some added fuzzy, flangy space rock guitar, followed by “The Return of Rübezahl,” a short, very heavy electric instrumental.

The side finishes off with the nighmarish “Eye-Shaking King” replete with distorted vocals and loud, clangorous instrumentation, then the short “Pale Gallery” featuring an overly-amped organ, thudding percussion, and various odd effects, a track that sounds as though it could have spawned all of Bauhaus-like gothic post-punk.

The second LP features three long tracks all designated as “improvisations,” the organization perhaps recalling Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma (released the same year). Side 3 is taken up with the 18-minute title track the slow beginning of which is very “Saucerful of Secrets”-like. Densely-textured guitars, organ, occasional shouts and other noises round out the moody side.

Side 4 is then split between “Yeti Talks to Yogi,” a continuation of “Yeti” that gets a little more manic, and a relatively quiet acoustic finale, “Sandoz in the Rain.” The latter track features guest appearances by a couple of members of Amon Düül I plus Thomas Keyserling (later a side man for Tangerine Dream) adding a welcome flute.

Sandoz, incidentally, was the name of the lab in Switzerland that first synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide way back in the late 1930s, with clinical trials famously being conducted there through the mid-1960s. There’s a story (probably untrue) that gets passed around of the company trying to sue Amon Düül II for using the name in the song title, but according to guitarist John Weinzierl “we told them the use of the word ‘Sandoz’ was only a ‘sound painting thing’” and the case was dropped.

“Of course I cannot confirm the rumor,” adds Weinzierl. “We were all on acid when recording the song.”

Yeti stands up especially well to repeated listens, and is well deserving of its reputation as an important early Krautrock entry.

To be honest, I might prefer the band’s next (third) album, Tanz Der Lemminge, just a touch more than Yeti, another spawling double-LP with a greater variety of sonic textures and moods. An incredible 70 minutes of music actually, with each of the four sides presenting multi-part mini-epics veering back and forth to produce some of the more pleasurable prog you’ll ever encounter -- a big omission from “50 Kosmische Classics,” although I can see why Cope went with the more frequently cited and certainly more influential Yeti.

2 comments:

23skidoo said...

Take a listen to Kraan - Kraan. one of the best German prog albums I've listened to.

Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks for the rec -- will do. I've heard a bit of the later fusion-y Kraan, but haven't gotten to this debut (which I've heard about before).