Sunday, August 21, 2011
Music Review: You - Electric Day, Time Code
The duo who called themselves You were something of a post-Krautrock affair, whose first album Electric Day appeared in 1979. By that time the LP side-long atmospherics of fellow Berliners Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze were beginning to incorporate some rhythm into their “Kosmische Musik." You’s sound fit right into this new electronic world, even if they were somewhat overlooked at the time. Bureau B has just reissued the first two You albums, Electric Day and Time Code. Both provide a fascinating glimpse into this transitional era.
The title track of Electric Day opens the original seven-song set. It is a heavily sequenced piece, with a high beats per minute quotient. “Electric Day” is in no way a dance music track however. “Magooba” highlights one of the brilliant guests You mainstays Udo Hanton and Albin Meskes brought into the project. Guitarist Uli Weber contributes mightily to the tale, as he does later during “Zero Eighty-Four.”
The Spiegeltraum Studio where Electric Day was recorded saw a fair number of Krautrock titans come to visit. One who decided to join the proceedings was drummer Harold Grosskopf. At the time, he was drumming with the remains of Ash Ra Tempel, which was now being called Ashra - and was led by Manuel Gottsching. He had also drummed for Klaus Schulze at one point.
The sequencer patterns of Electric Day add a certain “futuristic” sheen to the affair, but it is Grosskopf’s drums that hold everything together. Nowhere is this better exemplified than on the 12-minute “Slow Go.” This song more than any other bridges the old, lengthy improvisational style of the seventies with the more refined sounds that would become common in the eighties.
One of the great things about CD reissues is the opportunity for bonus materials. In the case of Electric Day, the original vinyl release held approximately 39 minutes of music. The Bureau B CD adds another 33 minutes to the mix. And these four songs are in no way inferior tracks. In fact, I am hard pressed to tell you why these were not issued - because they are as great as anything on the album.
The sequencer-driven, 11-minute “E-Night” features barely audible, out of phase spoken-word interludes (in German) at a couple of particular spooky points. Weber’s guitar apocalypse towards the end of the cut must be heard to be believed. Another strange and forward looking extra tune is “H. Rays Identity.“ The weird pre-videogame soundtrack is a uniquely intriguing vision. It is the sound of the future, as heard through the prism of the past.
You’s second effort, Time Code took four years to complete - and was released to an indifferent public in 1983. For Time Code, Hanten and Meskes were on their own. It often sounds as if the ghosts in their machines are having nightmares.
Their ambivalence about their musical role is reflected in some of the song titles. “Future/Past,” “Time Code,” and “Taurus-Fantasia” all seem to exist on a purgatory plain somewhere between the islands of old and new. The fact that all of their music is instrumental just adds to the delicious mystery of intent.
Time Code also pays tribute to the Dusseldorf electronic “power-plant” of Kraftwerk. Ralf and Florian’s place in music history was secure by 1983 with classics such as Trans-Europe Express and The Man Machine behind them. The way in which You touch upon their predecessor’s triumphs is fitting. They simply add glorious (wordless) harmonies to their electronic compositions. It is a very effective means of grounding the intangible synth-sounds with the human (and tangible) sounds of the duo.
The bonus tracks on Time Code are not as extensive as those of Electric Day. Only two appear. Both are eminently worthwhile however. Despite its title, “Controlled Demolition” is not the industrial strength, early Einsturzende Neubauten-style ear-drill one might expect. In fact, it is actually quite pastoral. This “kinder, gentler” side of You is further explored on “Zone Black,” which reminds me an awful lot of Jean-Michele Jarre’s landmark Oxygene.
You were a pair of German musicians caught up in a most interesting time. Although albums from any of the surviving Krautrock stalwarts in the early eighties make clear how awkward the period was, nothing captures it quite the way You do. Theirs is a lost chapter in the evolution of the genre, and one with a curious story all their own.
Article first published as Music Review: You - Electric Day, Time Code on Blogcritics.