Album Review: Neu! Box Set (Groenland)

NEU!
The influence of the Krautrock movement - the rough collective of German bands that mixed rambling guitar rock with the glistening sound of synthesizers and programmed beats - is a wonderfully enduring one. Pick up an album by LCD Soundsystem, Fuck Buttons or Stereolab, and you can pick out the insistent rhythms and drones that marked the three properly released LPs by the band known as NEU!

Founded in the early '70s by Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger, both of whom were members of one of the first lineups of Kraftwerk, NEU!'s work emphasized steady almost robotic rhythms overlaid with wandering Indian-influenced guitar work, fluttering bits of electronic noise and the occasional crash of metal on metal. They were studio tricksters as well, populating the entire second side of their 1973 LP NEU! 2 with reconstructions of one of their early singles.

With their continued influence still very evident, this new release is a welcome one for curiosity seekers and longtime fans, even if it comes less than a decade after the re-release of the band's work by Astralwerks. This five LP box combines those previously issued albums, but also commits to vinyl a live recording from 1972 and the band's final studio sessions from 1986. The latter was originally released by Dinger's own label Captain Trip in the mid-'90s, much to Rother's consternation. The death of his former musical partner in 2008 apparently put to rest any further bitterness who made an agreement with Dinger's heir to put the newly christened NEU! '86 into wide circulation. (The set also comes with a lovely booklet featuring some previously unseen photos of the group and testimonials from fans like John Frusciante and Thom Yorke, and your very own NEU! logo stencil.)

While the live set is a fantastic, though woefully short document of the band's earliest incarnation, it is the other exclusive disc that truly stands out. With '86, Dinger and Rother take NEU! full circle, taking notes and ideas from pop and electronica producers that were obviously inspired by their work.

"Dänzing" has a great warbling and wobbling club vibe that uses sampled bits of singing and spoken word in similar disorienting fashion as Front 242 and Ministry, and "Euphoria" evokes New Order's shimmery bliss. They don't completely eschew the sound that brought them to the world's attention -- the hypnotic "Drive (Grundfunken)" could slot into a DJ set behind NEU!'s opening cut, "Hallogallo" -- but it thrills most when Rother and Dinger take their band's name seriously, searching out modern forms of musical expression.

Independence in Art, Music, Beer and Life