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Old 04-04-2021, 07:17 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Who’s afraid of Amon Duul II ?

In a way, I have been for years; their long, “difficult” tracks and huge reputation can be daunting, plus the fact that personally, back in the 1970s, I never heard anything on their albums that sparked an interest, despite the recommendations of friends.

Innovative, sometimes rocking, sometimes spacy, they nonetheless kept to a pretty conventional rock-band line up – a violin, a sitar and two individualistic vocalists being about the closest thing to a signature sound in terms of instrumentation. Perhaps the way they alternate between acoustic and elec guitars also counts.

Rather like the Grateful Dead, Amon Duul II’s original appeal was largely tied up with counter-culture drug-taking experimentation: the soundtrack to a thousand trips, etc. But approx fifty years on from the release of their albums, all of that innovative weirdness has long ago been normalized and surpassed, so that listening to them is a little like reading H.G.Well’s “First Men On The Moon”: a view of what was considered futuristic back in the old days.

I’m going to try a speed review of their discography, one comment per track, as a guide to anyone else who wants to explore this Krautrock behemoth. Even though they surely deserve credit for being bold mind-expanding improvisers back in the day, I´m going to ignore the historical perspective and review them as I find them now, with the cold, sober mentality of a musical ignoramus in the 2020s. So perhaps the real question should be: “Are Amon Duul II afraid of me?”
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Last edited by Lisnaholic; 04-04-2021 at 09:26 AM.
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Old 04-04-2021, 04:01 PM   #12 (permalink)
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To get an idea of how each album was structured, I´m going to seperate the tracklists into their original sides on vinyl, and use this sophisticated coding:
(S) = short, less than 5 mins : (A) = average, which for ADII is 5 to 15 mins : (L)= long, 15+ mins, or one side of the original vinyl release
(And if your tastes coincide at all with mine, this might be useful: italics = tracks I put into a personal “Best of ADII” file )

Phallus Dei (1969)
1. Kanaan (S) – rumbling Western-movie sound with sparkling sitar and inscrutable vocals mixed in
2. Dem Guten, Schönen, Wahren (A) – whatever else there may be in this track, the tongue-in-cheek scary vocals are just too annoying.
3. Luzifers Ghilom (A) – starts well, but again the vocals (which at one point imitate a style from India) spoiled this track for me.
4. Henriette Krötenschwanz (S) – military rhythm with soaring vocals from Renate on top. Nice, but too short to be more than a curiosity

5. Phallus Dei (L) – rhythm kicks in after an extended freeform intro and it just builds from there. The pace changes for various sections; “tribal” chants and some great elec violin playing

Yeti (1970)
1. Soap Shop Rock (A) – a lot of effort from bass and percussion; they rev the engine but never quite take flight.
2. She Came Through the Chimney (S) – intricate guitar and violin with just bongos for percussion, this benefits from being so different from the previous, but it’s frustratingly short.
3. Archangels Thunderbird (S) – best elements of AD squeezed into 1 track; pulsing guitars and Renate’s clear confident voice riding over it all. Apparently a fan favorite and rightly so.

4. Cerberus (S) – instrumental with acoustic guitar and bongos transitioning into full band towards the end.
5. The Return of Ruebezahl (S) – a strong elec guitar riff carries this instrumental
6. Eye-Shaking King (A) – grungy rock, distorted vocals, excellent guitar solo
7. Pale Gallery (S) – lumbering bass takes us through some echoey high-register noises. Could’ve been longer imo, but perhaps it’s supposed to act as a warm up for:-

8. Yeti (improvisation) (L) – wailing guitar, extended jam; understandably compared to Floyd’s live Ummagumma disc


9. Yeti Talks to Yogi (improvisation) (A) – more “Yeti”, but this section seems less inspired – or perhaps it’s just too much of the same at this point
10. Sandoz in the Rain (improvisation) (A) – acoustic/flute jam with guy contributing some hard-to-follow lyrics.This is AD in their prog-folk guise, but it’s all a little directionless to me
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Old 04-05-2021, 04:14 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Tanz Der Lemminge (1971)

1. Syntelman's March of the Roaring Seventies (L) – singer sounds a little like Bowie, and this mainly prog-folk suite is divided into 4 sections. Plenty of interesting and inventive music throughout.

2.Restless Skylight-Transistor-Child (L) – another suite of songs, with only two of the ten sections having vocals – and that’s it with the vocals on this largely instrumental album. Some good riffs, coupled with violin and sitar soloing makes an excellent, sustained musical excursion, sounding more structured, less improvised than the long jams on the previous albums.


3. The Marilyn Monroe-Memorial-Church (L) – swirling ambient music enlivened at one point with some jazzy piano trills, you have to be in a specially receptive or exalted mood to like this track, I think. In the middle there are some surprisingly aggressive drums – as if reprimanding anyone who has fallen asleep. So, yeah, a bit like church.

4. Chewing Gum Telegram (S) – with its solid beat and lead guitar (with wah-wah pedal, maybe) it comes as a welcome relief after the MMM Church, but it's not, in itself, particularly interesting.
5. Stumbling over Melted Moonlight (S) – similar, but better, than the previous track
6 Toxicological Whispering (A) – a languid bluesy guitar work out closes the album on a high note.
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Old 04-05-2021, 09:21 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Carnival In Babylon (1972)
1. C.I.D. in Uruk (A) – right out of the gate something weird happens: the AD vocalists are singing la-la-la and harmonizing like they’re auditioning for the Johnny Mann Singers. This is fair warning that this is the album that many bands have in their discographies: The Appeal to the Wider Audience, aka The Killing of the Golden Goose. Rather bland folk prog song.
2. All the Years 'Round (A) – Just Renata singing seems like an improvement, until you notice that she’s singing some hippie fable:“…and they went into a rainbow…” Even the excellent guitar breaks can’t redeem the song, from lyrics like these, imo.
3. Shimmering Sand (A) – fine musicianship, great guitar fills, but with a guy singing, “Running to the edge of Fairy Town”, the cringe factor remains high.

4. Kronwinkl 12 (S) – a strong almost funky start soon descends into the unexceptional prog that AD seemed to want on this album.
5. Tables Are Turned (S) – not bad; quite poppy by AD standards
6.Hawknose Harlequin (A) – this song of 3 sections has two good instrumental sections, the last being an extended mellow outro with elec guitar like something by David Gilmore. Apparently what we have here are remnants of a 40 min original, which hints at what this album might’ve been.

That’s why, on this occasion, I checked out some of the bonus material now offered:
7. Skylight (A) – a multi-layered instrumental of the kind usually described as hypnotic. This is AD meets late-era Soft Machine and is better than what ended up on the album imo.
8. Tatzelwurmloch (L) – sitar and swirling electronic modifications lead us into another fascinating instrumental tapestry, but with little variation of that hypnotic pace, little by little this turns from pleasure into an endurance test.
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Old 04-07-2021, 06:55 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Wolf City (1972)
1. Surrounded by the Stars (A) – Renate’s vocals to the forefront, but unlike Carnival in B, she sings with passion while AD generate a sinister, aggressive sound. There are changes of pace and some violin passages: a welcome return to form.
2. Green-Bubble-Raincoated-Man (A) – a deceptively light start, again from Renate, leads into a nice bass run that drives this song forwards. The lyrics seem to tap into more personal experience and for once I was interested enough to listen to them.
3. Jail-House Frog (S)- luckily, the guy singing an unexceptional hard rock song concludes and with a complete change of pace, the last two-thirds of the track is a beautifully built up instrumental, beginning with frogs and concluding with full band plus sax.

4. Wolf City (S) – we expect the title track of an album to be a stand-out, but nothing special to my ears about this one.
5. Wie der Wind am Ende einer Strasse (A) – produced in Germany, but by most other parameters, an Indian instrumental featuring sitar, bongos and violin. Nice.
6. Deutsch Nepal (S)- ponderous rock like Grand Vizier’s on Ummagumma, with some odd lyrics in German.
7. Sleepwalker's Timeless Bridge (S) – a gentle intro ultimately takes up three quarters of the song, and when a vocalist and haunting violin join in, even I notice what a successful synthesis of folk rock, prog and Indian music AD can achieve.
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Old 04-08-2021, 12:41 AM   #16 (permalink)
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Amon Duul II are still crazy by today's standards

but more importantly their music is top notch
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Old 04-08-2021, 08:59 AM   #17 (permalink)
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Vive La Trance (1974)

1. A Morning Excuse (S) – in the opening bars it’s clear that AD have made a huge stylistic change; more rock, less prog, and a pretty normal song structure which, it turns out, is the template for this whole album.
2. Fly United (S) – very polished rock, with excellent sax and guitar interludes coming in right where you’d expect them in another good but conventionally structured song.

3. Jalousie (S) – showcase for Renate sounding like a proto Kate Bush
4. Im Krater Blühn Wieder Der Bäume (S)- ok instrumental, but has something of a “filler” feel about it
5. Mozambique (A) – jazzy Afro-pop elements are another startling departure for AD, though later, after some anti-colonial lyrics from Renate, AD touch base with their former selves in a long outro, but it still feels tidied up compared to their previous stuff.
6. Apocalyptic Bore (A) – great guitar, but weak lyrics, both in the singing and in their “cosmic” content. A pity because at the end of the song there is a nice short-lived spacy section
7. Dr. Jeckyll (S) – more well executed, toe-tapping rock
8. Trap (S) - ditto
9. Pig Man (S) – rhythm guitar sounds like a McCartney song from the “Can’t Buy Me Love” era. Nothing wrong with that, though not what I particularly want to hear from AD. Nice sax work out closes the track.
10. Mañana (S) – notable for being unexceptional in every way as far as I can see.
11. Ladies Mimikry (S) – kind of poppy experimentation. Nothing like Candy a Currant Bun, but that seems to’ve been the approach.
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Old 04-08-2021, 09:59 AM   #18 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by elphenor View Post
Amon Duul II are still crazy by today's standards

but more importantly their music is top notch
Yes, elphenor. I agree: in fact you have pre-empted some closing remarks I was planning to make:

I'm worried that I might've sounded rather dismissive with these reviews. As a guy who can't play a note of music, I should declare that AD are constantly doing a thousand clever things that I can't begin to appreciate. Also, all these reviews are based on first or second impressions, so any tracks that "grow on you" have gotten a raw deal from me.

Compared to Faust or Can, ADII present the gentle face of Krautrock, with prog-folk, spacy, pastoral elements that bring them closer to English bands of the time, most notably Pink Floyd. As elph says, their music is top notch - and so is their musicianship. They work as an ensemble, with, as far as I can see, no standout guitar hero who makes or breaks each track. That's partly why female vocalist Renate Knaupz is the only member who gets a name-check in my reviews. Plus, perhaps intentionally, there's never a band photo of the front cover of these albums. To redress that a little, here's the roll call, first from Pallus Dei and then from Vive La Trance:-

ADII in 1969:
- Renate Knaup / vocals, tambourine
- Christian "Shrat" Thiele / bongos, violin, vocals
- Chris Karrer / violin, guitar, 12-string guitar, soprano sax, vocals
- Falk Rogner / organ
- John Weinzierl / bass, guitar, 12-string guitar
- Dave Anderson / bass (3)
- Dieter Serfas / drums, electric cymbals
- Peter Leopold / drums
With:
- Holger Trülzsch / Turkish drums
- Christian Burchard / vibraphone

ADII in 1974:
Renate Knaupz / lead & backing vocals
- John Weinzierl / acoustic & electric guitars, bass, vocals
- Chris Karrer / electric & 12-string guitars, violin, saxophone, Mellotron & maracas, vocals
- Falk Rogner / organ, VCS3 synthesizer, harmonium
- Robby Heibl / bass, electric & 12-string guitars, violin, cello & backing vocals, gurke, lead vocals
- Peter Leopold / drums, percussion, grand piano
With:
- Desmond Bonner / lead & backing vocals
- Lothar Meid / backing vocals
- Peter Kramper / grand piano
- Keith Forsey / percussion & backing vocals

So four musicians have been at the heart of AD during their so-called "classic period". They have created an ouvre of great albums, which I'm sure I will enjoy re-hearing after this exploratory run through. And yet there are two things that I never really found: (i) that brilliant musical moment that makes you think, "Wow, I must hear that again" or (ii) a tune I can hum on my way to work.
__________________________________________________ ____

And finally, after Vive La Trance, I'm taking a break from Amon Duul II because:
i) these are considered their classic albums
ii) next up would be their "Live in London" album, which is perhaps something of a compilation exercise
iii) '69 to '74 are the years covered on a "Best of ADII" released by their record label
iv) with one exception, their albums hereafter get a pretty low star-rating from allmusic.com - like half the number of stars awarded to the albums I've looked at! What happened?! That is a question for another day...
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