Various Artists - The Brain Box (The Cerebral Sounds Of Brain...) album review

Comprehensive eight-CD anthology of legendary Krautrock label

Cover art for Various Artists - The Brain Box (The Cerebral Sounds Of Brain...) album

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The late 60s were a time of great awakening across the US and Europe, with a new countercultural and psychedelic consciousness soundtracked in different ways by groups ranging from The Mothers of Invention to Pink Floyd. The latter two made a great impression when they played German festivals such as the Essener Sontage in the late 1960s. Many young West Germans were coming of age and coming to terms not just with the sins of international capitalism but also the still-smouldering legacy of the Nazi era. A new generation of German groups took up the cudgels of rock with a particular sense of purpose in this era of dawning new consciousness.

The term “Krautrock” has been used to cover an elite band of innovators including Can, Kraftwerk and Neu! who sought to forge a new musical identity that was West German in origin and form rather than merely imitative of British and US blues-based rock. Other groups of the era were clearly inspired by their Anglo-American counterparts and many feature here in this mixed collection that offers a fascinating broad range of styles from avant garde electronica to straight-up heavy rock, from jazz fusion to bucolic Prog. The Brain label was set up by Günter Körber and to showcase this busy new underground, erupting in scenes across the country.

There are countless delights and curios on this vast collection; The Scorpions’ Leave Me, featuring pleasingly kosmische undulations, the brass funk-influenced Natron by Creative Rock, Embryo’s Moroccan-tinged Radio Marrakesch/Orient Express, the tightly knit boogie of Jane’s Expectations, or the scampering, Terry Riley-esque sequencers of Eroc’s Des Zauberer’s Traum to name but a few.

Much of this collection sounds very much of the 70s in its ostentatious instrumental virtuosity. The last two CDs, culled from the Brain festival in Essen, contain some dazzling rock excursions that nonetheless proceed only to the brink of irrelevance in 1977 and 1978, when they were recorded. Others featured here, however, such as Guru Guru (Oxymoron), Popol Vuh, Cluster (Caramba), Tangerine Dream (Circulation Of Events) and Harmonia (Watussi) are really breaking the bounds of the rock customs of their days and venturing into the realms of pure innovation. Although often barely regarded at all by their countrymen and women in their own time, and not much since, these were the groups to whom later generations of adventurous Anglo-American groups would listen hardest, finding in their work blueprints for the future.

David Stubbs

David Stubbs is a music, film, TV and football journalist. He has written for The Guardian, NME, The Wire and Uncut, and has written books on Jimi Hendrix, Eminem, Electronic Music and the footballer Charlie Nicholas.