For aficionados of the genre known as Krautrock, Faust is a big deal. A style that flourished in the early '70s, Krautrock was an attempt by (mostly) German artists to fuse two major streams of twentieth-century music: the extremely advanced classical sound of Stockhausen and the extremely advanced pop of James Brown and the Velvet Underground. How this translated into rock and roll was, on many levels, quite simple. The Krautrock bands combined drones, noises, and grooves in an immediate, intuitive style. In most cases these groups dumped concepts such as song structure in favor of completely improvised concerts and freewheeling studio experimentation. What is not so simple is that in today's musical climate, this style still sounds incredibly fresh, even though the building blocks of Krautrock have been so assimilated into pop music they can no longer be considered radical or unusual. Drones, noises, and grooves are thick on the ground nowadays, which is a problem for Faust.
The band re-emerged in 1994, after a wave of interest in avant-garde music began sweeping across the college-radio world (much of it inspired by frequent name-checking from bands such as Stereolab), playing concerts in Europe and the United States, and then releasing several new CDs. Which brings us to Ravvivando, the group's latest. So what is Faust up to more than 25 years after its first record? Drones, noises, and grooves, and not particularly compelling ones at that. Most of the tracks on this CD contain two elements: a beat and a wash of mushy sound on top of it. All that varies is the time signature (the band branches out into Rush-ian experimentation with two songs in 5/8 and one track in ultrachallenging 11/8, which has been cleverly titled "four plus seven means eleven") and the mix. Sometimes the drums and bass are softer than the other stuff, sometimes they're not. And sometimes the wash of sound on top is dominated by droning distorted guitar and sometimes it's dominated by droning distorted keyboard. There are a couple of melodies, and once in awhile a word or two of German sneaks through the fog, but never is there anything as banal as a song, or even a change of direction once a piece starts ticking along into inevitability.
Which is not to say you shouldn't believe the hype about Faust. By all means check out the group's early records and enjoy. But just because Faust has more hipster credibility than other '70s bands that disappear and reform (CSN&Y, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac) doesn't mean it's not cashing in on its richly deserved reputation by making second-rate records that will sell to its cult following.
-- Ted Reichman
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Holly Springs, Mississippi, guitarist/vocalist Asie Payton died in 1997 at age 60, before his debut recordings were even released. The ten demo tracks assembled on Worried, however, provide a suitable memorial for this reluctant performer who cared less about spreading to the masses his idiosyncratic form of north Mississippi blues than he did working the fields in his tractor and playing around town whenever the urge hit him.
Fortunately Fat Possum label guru Matthew Johnson was able to cut these demos on Payton in 1994, in suitably primal fashion at the Chulahoma juke joint operated by another legendary blues figure, the late Junior Kimbrough. The songs are all traditional -- from the Muddy Waters staple "Can't Be Satisfied" to the title cut, which has been around for most of the century -- yet Payton put his singular stamp on each, singing like a kicked dog on the shuffling "Nobody but You," and splattering his Lightning Hopkins-style guitarwork all over the place. Some overdubbed horns and the drumming of blues legend Sam Carr add a rhythmic wallop to "Worried Life" and "Nobody but You," making them equal parts levee-camp hollers and juke-joint crushers. Fat Possum's newfound interest with techno tomfoolery surfaces on "Asie's Jam" and the opening version of "I Love You" (remixed by Scott Benzel and Jim Waters), but it doesn't obscure the power of Payton's ragged boogie. Still it's the ache and torment of Payton's voice on "Please Tell Me You Love Me," accompanied only by his guitar, that underpins the sadness of his death and the subtle beauty of his art.
-- John Floyd