Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Michael Rother—
Sterntaler


Released 1978 on Sky
The Seth Man, May 2000ce
This was the NEU! guitarist’s second and finest solo album. Joined on both records by Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit and co-produced by Rother and audio guru Conrad Plank, it’s a purely instrumental album of six songs precisely overdubbed to perfection. Rother is credited with a battery of instruments (guitar, piano, bass, vibraphone, Hawaiian guitar, synthesizer, strings) but it’s not the least bit muddled, fussy or overdone. As far as solo albums go, this is about as uncluttered as they come, and nothing overstays its welcome. The contents are so light and pleasing yet so incredibly hook-ridden, he could’ve recorded each of these six tracks as an album side apiece and they’d be in no danger of ever becoming the least bit boring. Small children and animals will delight to this record probably as much as you. “Sonnenrad” opens with the first of many melodies, the main riff soon bursting in like the first rays of a promising morning, as an unhurried exercise of parallel and contrasting guitar lines coexist in this peaceable kingdom. “Blauer Regen” is a gentle though just as forlorn cousin to NEU!’s “Seeland,” percussion-less save for sparsely hit cymbals all muted into hollow incantations. Rain begins to fall over the love-lost guitar line as the water drips from the drains outside. The rain then gets phased and faded at the same time, followed by the almost looser relative of the first track, “Stromlinien.” Liebezeit holds up a steady beat, natürlich, as the FX-ed Rother guitar lines are all double-tracked alongside harmony synthesizer runs. Here, the NEU! automotive groove is given a far more relaxed treatment and you get to see the countryside as overhead trees pass above an open convertible made for two. It breaks down into a slight respite with everything faded down into a low valley, but it reappears at the other side of the mountain, refreshed and going for it, as the double-tracked riff re-enters once more. It’s an insidious melody where you don’t hear the repetition -- you just sense the pulse behind it. Soon string synthesizer and massed guitar lines collect on the horizon as Liebezeit switches to just hi-hat in the phased fade out.

The title track, “Sterntaler” opens side two with a gentle synth melody as the sparest rhythm line creates plateaus until a robust, lightly-fuzzed double track guitar emerges to the surface with a slow melody that builds with every note -- a phenomena common to Rother’s guitar approach, and not too many others. Ahhhh...then the centerpiece of the whole album, “Fontana di Luna.” Phased cymbals and a slow tempo drum pattern begin as low synth and tinkling chimes flurry together to frame the most beautiful track on the album. Here Rother plays echoed vibes as lightly-struck percussion resound over Rother’s backseat snatches of guitar melody that pick up where the vibes trail off, like gentle foreplay on a warm Mediterranean night. Phased, phased rhythm generator appears in the vibe-less bridge, like a reminder of last night’s activity in the morning sun. The vibe and guitar/cat and mouse melody is then reintroduced, and chase each other playfully for the remainder of this atmospheric and spacious love vibe-out. “Orchestrion” is just that: an orchestra of overdubbed bass generator and controlled guitars running rampant over a spry drum pattern through all manner of effects from Plank’s studio. More guitar melodies are introduced--delicate ones as well as the reoccurring dense fuzz ones like rearing steeds, all reigned in by the genius that is Michael Rother. This album stands alongside his work with NEU!, Harmonia and his “Zuckerzeit” associations as final proof of not only of his vast instrumental facility, but his keen ear for both melody and arrangement -- which on this album are about as vast as the aural vistas he captures so perfectly.