Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Krautrock: Cluster, Sowiesoso (1976)

Cluster’s fourth LP (and third and last included among Julian Cope’s “50 Kosmische Classics”) is perhaps the duo’s most melodic and pleasant disc, making it a good starting point for those wishing to be introduced to the Berlin-based electronic music pioneers.

I haven’t delved too deeply into a lot of post-1970s stuff from Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius -- between the two they each appeared either together or separately on more than a hundred records during their long careers. That said, Sowiesoso stands as a favorite Cluster disc for me and the one I dial up most often.

The seven-plus minute title track (which means “Anyway”) that opens the disc offers a rhythmic, soothing groove with an added fluttering synth that is always welcoming. Though repetitive, there’s an uncanny sense of forward progress evident throughout, and a polish that distinguishes this record from a few of the more slapdash-seeming Zuckerzeit tracks.

“Halwa” comes next, compiling an moody, effective ensemble of keyboards and synth. “Dem Wanderer” (“the hiker”) then ambles through, circling back to its starting point in a pleasing way. The first side closes with “Umleitung” (“detour”), in which a soft two-note pattern provides a context for some playful percussion and wordless chanting as though we’ve stumbled on a hippies-in-the-woods campfire scene.

Side 2 opens with the lovely “Zum Wohl” (“for the benefit”), one of those wistful, plaintive tracks Cluster sometimes produces that work both as non-intrusive ambient and as an aural object rewarding close study. Another delicate construction, “Es War Einmal” (“once upon a time”) follows, tiptoeing through a few different synth paths before resolving into a breathing-like pattern of exhaling and inhaling. “In Ewigkeit” (“for eternity”) rounds out the program, its jazzy “afterglow’ like feel like a nice nightcap.

Following Sowiesoso would come Cluster’s famous get-together with fellow sound explorer Brian Eno, with the collaborations producing two well-liked albums by fans of both -- Cluster & Eno (1977) and After the Heat (1978).

Despite being a dedicated Enophile myself, I only have a modest liking of these two albums, in part because they sound as though Cluster’s identity gets subsumed by Eno, making the records less satisfying (to me) than either Cluster’s own work or Eno’s ambient output from the same period (Discreet Music, Music for Airports, Music for Films).

Take Sowiesoso for a walk here while you surf or work on other things, and see what you think about this “thinking music”:

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