Harmonia: Deluxe

harmonia_800A look back at Harmonia: Deluxe (1975), the second album from Krautrock pioneers Harmonia, written in honor of founding member Dieter Moebius, who sadly passed away July 20, 2015, at the age of 71.

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Harmonia was an influential German band formed in 1973, often referred to as a ‘supergroup’ due to its members’ backgrounds: Michael Rother of Neu!, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius of Cluster, and eventually the legendary British musician and producer Brian Eno.

Harmonia incorporated many of the archetypical Krautrock characteristics – ambient electronica, motorik 4/4 beats, prog improvisation, minimalist arrangements – which they processed and elevated into something totally unique and brilliant.

Two years after their debut, Musik Von Harmonia (1973), the band followed up with their crowning masterpiece, Deluxe (also styled as De Luxe). Produced by Conny Plank (Kraftwerk, Neu!, Ash Ra Tempel), the album was recorded in the band’s own Forst, Germany studio. Free jazz drummer and Guru Guru frontman Mani Neumeier also joined the sessions.

harmonia_240Deluxe is the sound of open-minded, free-thinking musical masterminds merging into an entity that’s even greater than the sum of its parts. Effortlessly interweaving shimmering keyboards, soft mechanical beats, and a melodic flow, the album sounds as sweet as a summer’s day. Just 40 minutes in length, but endless in depth and beauty, Deluxe is a timeless piece of music meant for eternity.

The album opens with electronic chirping of birds and warm, melodic synth lines, followed by the introduction of vocals, whose lyrics somewhat define the band’s modus operandi: “Immer wieder rauf und runter / Einmal drauf und einmal drunter…” Neumeier’s pulsating, percussive beats dominate the 10-minute epic, “Walky-Talky,” giving it a stable framework that the other three willingly play around, with psychedelic guitar lines and keyboards that build and evolve on themselves.

The more rapid “Monza (Rauf Und Runter)” is the most conventional Krautrock track here, with its linear, jogging rhythm, while “Notre Dame” waves back and forth between different themes – not aimlessly, but dreamily, like clouds that are formed, broken up and reshaped anew. Deluxe is a living, pulsating and joyful magic carpet ride, which eventually returns us back to earth with nature’s own ambient sound, concludinf “Kekse” and thus the entire album. Having traveled around the sun, in what may seemed like an eternal dream, we can see the world with new eyes.

Harmonia is often regarded as a side project, and therefore less important than bands from the same time and scene, but their influence extends far beyond that. Their position in the wave of early-’70s rock/electronica is concurrent with bands like Kraftwerk, Can and Neu! – all artists who sought other approaches to music than the Anglo-American blues-based style.

Without these bands, it is difficult to imagine David Bowie’s development in the 1970s, the rise of post-punk, new wave, new age or current day electronica, and the fundament of bands like Stereolab, Tortoise, LCD Soundsystem and countless others. In this musical chapter, Deluxe should hold a cornerstone position.

Last, but not least, it is a record that still holds up with beauty with grace, without losing any of its former glory.

The band’s entire catalog is highly recommended. Their debut is somewhat more ambient in style, an album that supposedly made Brian Eno describe Harmonia as ‘the world’s most important rock band.’ Unsurprisingly, he later joined the band himself, and together they made Tracks And Traces in 1976, a record that did not see the light of day for another 20 years.

Opprinnelig publisert på read.tidal.com 21. juli, 2015.

Bjørn Hammershaug

75. Labradford: Mi Media Naranja (Kranky/Blast First, 1997)

Labradford: “C” Labradford gjorde det ikke umiddelbart lett for seg selv da de i 1997 lanserte sitt flotteste verk. Mi Media Naranja er kledd i et dunkelt omslag, uten forklarende tekst, låtene bærer knapt titler. For de av oss som gikk mang en vinter i møte med deres foregående album, ikke minst A Stable Reference (1995) var Virgina-bandet allerede en velkjent kompanjong – så det gjorde ikke så mye. Alle deres skiver er verdt å sjekke ut, Mi Media Naranja er et naturlig førstevalg. Ikke bare som deres mest tilgjengelige, men også fordi de her utvidet sine lydskulpturer til et eget sound, omformet sine abstrakte strøk om til noe allment og konkret – og usigelig vakkert.

Knitrende elektroniske nyanser, minimalistisk dub, sober orkestrering, hviskende stemmer, dvelende gitartwang – dette er Brian Enos Apollo-ferd filtrert gjennom tysk modernisme (Pole, Oval), svevende over den amerikanske vesten sett gjennom David Lynch’ linse. Mi Media Naranja er et sfærisk album, fullt av åpne rom, som likevel alltid avslører nye dybder; minimalistisk, magisk og alltid ytterst smakfullt. Dette er musikk i vektløs tilstand. Skapt for evigheten.