A Brand Neu! Sound
Neu! had only booked into the studio, to record their first LP, for four days. Yet, two days in, they barely had anything worth using. Drummer Klaus Dinger and multi-instrumentalist Michael Rother had been in an early version of Kraftwerk (on drums and guitar) in 1971, and, in love with how it felt playing those repetitive, machine-like rhythms live, they'd formed their own band. They were called Neu!, and their goal was that simple: to make a kind of music that was wholly new, unlike anything that'd come before. Bunkering down with Kraftwerk producer Conny Plank in a Düsseldorf studio, Dinger and Rother were hoping for magic. With half their time gone, they were struggling.
Then Neu! stripped things back to the starkest of simplicity: Dinger on drums, Rother on bass. They started playing the simplest of rhythms —Dinger driving the constant, unfettered 4/4 beat that would become his signature— and, slowly, increased the tension, tempo, and intensity. Like a locomotive picking up steam or a car flickering along the broken lines of the highway, it was music that traveled; its mechanized constancy bringing with it, ironically, a sense of utter freedom.
In this liberation, in a song called "Negativland," Dinger and Rother found the sound of Neu!, and founded a rhythm, a record, and, if we're to define it liberally, an entire movement. For many, krautrock was born on Neu!, and, after that, music would be forever changed.
Into the Forever
Though "Negativland" was the Eureka! moment for Neu! (and though the song went on to lend its name to a band of American copyright-baiters almost as infamous and influential as Neu!), it was not, and still isn't, the defining song from their debut LP.
That honor belongs to Neu!'s ten-minute opening salvo, "Hallogallo," which streamlined the ideas that crystalized on "Negativland," and harnessed this notion of 'motion' to utter perfection. Kicking off Side A, "Hallogallo" rises out of the abyss, with Dinger's flickering, "motorik" rhythm pulsing forward whilst Rother lays harmonized guitar tones and flecks of flayed strings to quietly-cosmic effect.
These two songs are the defining cuts on Neu!, even now the defining songs on the band's whole discography; places where any musicologist looking to explore the history of krautrock starts out.
This means that many overlook the album's more hazy, less driven songs; experimental interludes like the uneasy, gong-banging, half-atonal ambience of "Sonderangebot," the aural seascape of "Im Glück," or Dinger's delirious, bizarre 'lovesong' "Lieber Honig," a piece of self-mythologizin' outsider-art balladry to rival Skip Spence or Vincent Gallo.
The Dinger-beat is noticeably absent from any of those songs, but they're no mere filler. Instead, their strangeness grants the album a sense of genuine adventure, as if Neu! could turn in any direction at any moment. Sometimes, life is a highway and they want to ride it, other times the journey is into the spookiest realms within. Either way, it's a trip well worth taking.
Record Label: Brain Records
Release Date: March 1972