PRINT May 1996



“Krautrock”—the early-’70s Kosmische Musik of German bands like Can, FAUST, Neu!, Cluster, Amon Düül II, Ash Ra Tempel, and Popol Vuh—is currently hipper than it’s ever been. What with the boom in CD reissues, the publication of Julian Cope’s idiosyncratic guidebook Krautrocksampler, and pledges of allegiance from current bands like Stereolab, the Dead C, Flying Saucer Attack, and Telstar Ponies, now is the right time for Rien, Faust’s first studio album in two decades.

Formed in 1969 at the instigation of journalist Uwe Nettelbeck, Faust created four albums of peerless postpsychedelic/protopunk mayhem—Faust, Faust So Far, The Faust Tapes, and Faust IV—before disintegrating in 1974. Oscillating between zany absurdism and cosmic grandeur, Faust’s music was permeated with the Zen/Dada/LSD spirit of the late ’60s. But it isn’t so much the band’s hippy maximalism as its Velvet Underground–influenced minimalism and its penchant for loose ends and rough edges that have created its abiding postpunk legacy, as heard in contemporary genres like lo-fi (Pavement), postrock (Tortoise), and Japanese neopsychedelic noise (Keiji Haino).

For many, the band’s greatest achievement was The Faust Tapes, a collage of 26 segments, full of jarring stylistic jump cuts between tracks and of incongruous juxtapositions within them. Lautréamont’s famous line about the beauty of a “chance meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table” could have served as Faust’s motto. Released by the American independent label Table of the Elements, Rien returns to Tapes’ cut-up mess-thetic: the album was pieced together, by producer/experimentalist Jim O’Rourke, out of a studio session and live tapes of the band’s 1994 reunion tour of America. Nominally divided into seven tracks, Rien is a montage of noise, song fragments, random vocal interjections, feedback gusts, disjointed piano motifs, John Cale–like violin scraping, and found sounds. One sequence juxtaposes the din of road drills with the swell of symphonic strings; another layers the idiot mantra “Listen to the fish” and a woozy, heavily processed trumpet over a stealthy, pulsing trance-rock groove.

Rien enshrines one side of Faust—the noise-and-Dada band that screwed with form and structure—and does it well. What’s absent from this comeback record is the band’s more listener-friendly side, as heard on Faust IV’s “Jennifer” (one of psychedelia’s most eerie and poignant love songs) and “It’s a Bit of a Pain” (twilight beauty redolent of the third Velvet Underground album). Even Tapes had its share of gorgeous folkadelic tunes amid the chaos. It might seem perverse to celebrate Faust for something as prosaic and trad as songwriting rather than for its avant-rock extremism. But it’s precisely that element of sheer loveliness that’s missing from Rien, and that I miss.

Simon Reynolds