Even if this is lesser Faust, fans will still find plenty to like.
One of the best-loved krautrock bands, Faust released a handful of albums in the ‘70s before disbanding and all but disappearing, its whereabouts between 1975 and 1990 for the most part “shrouded in mystery,” just like Stonehenge. But the group has since experienced a mini-renaissance, taking on its first American tour in 1994 and returning to the States in 2016. Unlike the more controlled recording circumstances of 2014’s J US t and 2011‘s even better Something Dirty, Fresh Air is a looser affair, recorded during the group’s American tour last year and featuring a sometimes communal version of the signature Faust art-rock. Even if this is lesser Faust, fans will still find plenty to like.
The album centers around longer spoken-word driven pieces, from the 17-and-a-half-minute opening title track to the 11-minute closer “Fish.” The pleasures of these tracks are largely in texture, and while not all of the lyrics are in English, some of those that are seem like mere polemic: “she doesn’t care about our children’s problems!”
Opener “Fresh Air” seems to begin mid-stream, launching directly into the recitation of a French poem translated into Polish. No English translation is provided, but none may be necessary; the female voice a crisp texture soon overwhelmed by Ysanne Spevack’s viola. By the end of the track, co-founder Jean-Hervé Peron is crying out for the nourishment and peace of “fresh air.” While the extended piece has the looseness of a live recording, the vocals, percussion and drone all come together for the kind of definitively Faustian experimental experience that goes all the way back to their first, clear-vinyl release.
But the album’s strength is less in these expansive pieces (or the 22-second fragment “Partitur,” a group vocal burst over percussion) and more in tracks that hew closer to song form. The two-and-a-half-minute “Birds of Texas” lays a moody instrumental with a simmering guitar wail that you wish could have gone on for longer over the nocturnal chirping of nature.
Since this is a Faust album, you can expect the unexpected, and the musical shift soon turns to the album’s most accessible song. “La Poulie” (“The Pulley”) has the signature kraut beat (courtesy of founding drummer Werner “Zappi” Diermaier) that launched a hundred imitators, a mechanistic but charming dance rhythm. Peron sings lyrics that sound, in my limited French, like detailed instructions for the pulley operator to follow. “Five millimeters,” Peron cries out by way of adjustment, and the instrumental response to these directions is a glorious explosion of guitar. “Et voila!“ – “There you go!”
Less successful is “Chlorophyl,” (sic) with a Barbara Manning vocal (described as a “live lecture”) that doesn’t quite seem suited to the track’s thudding percussion. That may well be the fault of the track; Manning fares better on the frenetic “Lights Flicker,” whose steady beat and sax skronk points to the kind of art-punk that Faust inspired in the ‘80s.
Fresh Air isn’t essential Faust, but the mere fact we have anything new from the band at this late stage in its career—and much of it is good, for that matter—is as welcome as the natural goodness of its title.