TRACK BY TRACK: Off the record

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My first full album review of the year 2014! And today I am going to review the album ‘Off the record’ by the former Kraftwerk musician Karl Bartos.

For those unaware of who he is, Karl Bartos was born in Berchtesgaden in West Germany. He was a member of Kraftwerk between 1975, before leaving in 1990, supposedly due to their album, The Mix, taking a half a decade to finish, because of the lead singer Ralf Hutter’s increasingly perfectionist attitude. Over the last 24 years, he’s started the band Elektric Music, collaborated with a multitude of artists, before releasing his first solo album in 10 years. This one.

TRACK 1: ATOMIUM

The album starts off the track Atomium. And it is a strong start to the album, a good beat, and has very much got that element of Kraftwerk in there, which is missing in some of their more recent releases. I personally think that it is interesting to see what Karl took with him when he left the band. The drumbeat is clear but doesn’t invade the rest of the great keyboard work. Overall the sound is simple but sounds modern and fresh.

TRACK 2: NACHTFAHRT (Night drive)

Track two is just as good. Sang in german, one could say it’s Autobahn’s nocturnal brother. It has a very cheerful sound to it and has a very memorable sound to it.

TRACK 3: INTERNATIONAL VELVET

Starting with a bit of vocoded lyrics, and a good bass. Unlike the previous two tracks, this one has left drums, and has a much softer sound on the ear. I like the harmonious sounds in the background. The keyboards are really good, it’s a genuinely nice track.

TRACK 4: WITHOUT A TRACE OF EMOTION

Going back to a sound similar to the first two tracks, there is more of a noticeable Drum machine sound within this track, but it has the nice keyboard from track 3, and the singing from Bartos, mostly unvocoded, is surprisingly good. While not the best singer, he has a decent voice, and a good skill of writing memorable lyrics.

TRACK 5: THE BINARY CODE

One of the shorter tracks of the album, this one starts of with various 8 bit sounds playing in a elaborate sequence, in various keys. Just shy of 2 minutes, it is a good concept, and it’s one of those tracks an art student would like,  the sounds fade out…

TRACK 6: MUSICA EX MACHINA

…to the sound bass, and a cool beat appear, the track becomes less of an earache, and more of a groovy techno romp. I do like the sounds in this one, progressive harmonies, a good bass, a cool middle 8, and sound drum beats. A great song is this one, even if the instrumental section drags slightly towards the end of the song.

TRACK 7: THE TUNING OF THE WORLD

This was the first song I heard, and the one that got me to buy the album. I like it for a multitude of reasons. It has a great melody, and the lyrics are really nice, here is an example:

I wish I could believe in God
Life would be just safe and sound
I‘d build my house on solid ground
It‘s rather hard to understand
Why some believe and others can‘t
Who rules the tuning of the world?

The lyrics themselves aren’t particularly cheerful, but the song itself has a happy feel to it, one to the listen to in the summer. I really like the vocoder, not quite human sounding, but not too robotic. I like this track mostly because it isn’t Kraftwerk, the other tracks had a slight tinge of kraftwerk, but this one is Bartos.

TRACK 8 INSTANT BAYREUTH

Starting off slow, with long presses of keyboard keys, held sounds and a snare filled drum beat. This goes to a more simplistic sound and a much calmer and almost relaxing one. I like this one, it’s upbeat, but a song you could go to sleep to. The dreamlike quality is magnificant, and I love this one, a definite highlight of this album. The ending is also vaguely creepy

TRACK 9: VOX HUMANA

 This track has a streak of Kraftwerk inside, it starts off cold and robotic, but it has an element of Kapital from Laibach in it, with the sound bites and the vaguely creepy sounds to it. It is a stark contrast to some of the warmer, peppy and upbeat tracks of the first section of the album, I like it quite a lot, but it creeps me out a little bit.

TRACK 10: RHYTHMUS

This track reminds me of the Computer world album, and I enjoyed that album. In the booklet, Bartos confirmed the link to the Computer world album, so it’s meant to have that sound. It’s like a mix of Number, and Comuputer world and Computer love from that album. The sound used is the Polymoog sound-‘The ultimate uber-organ’-and it is a good throwback to Kraftwerk in their prime.

TRACK 11: SILENCE

The most interesteing concept in this album is put accross in this album, just 6 seconds of silence. Or, ambient noise.

TRACK 12: HAUSMUSIK

The grand finale of the Off the record album, goes back to the sound of track four. And I like this one, even if it isn’t the grandest of finales, but I think it is a good way to end the album, a charming little goodbye before the album ends.

CONCLUSION

This album is brilliant. If you’re a fan of electronic music, I would give it a try. The music is top notch german quality from one of the founding fathers of electronic music. If I had one complaint, some of the instrumental sections go on for a while, but the album is strong enough for that to be only a minor criticism. Track’s 3, 4, 7, and 9 are recommended listening if you want to give the album a try, but if you look on You Tube, Atomium is the only track available due to copyright issues. This album gets 4 stars.

About the author

Ben

Since 2012, Benjamin Attwood has written for the If you Ask Ben blog.

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