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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

ASHRA: Blackouts (1977)

Blackouts is just as good as New Age of Earth and it's a timeless masterpiece of the vintage minimalist Berlin School movement

1 77 Slightly Delayed 6:39 2 Midnight on Mars 6:51 3 Don't Trust the Kids 3:14 4 Blackouts 4:36 5 Shuttle Cock 8:29 6 Lotus Part I-IV 16:54 Polydor France

(CD 46:43) (V.F.) (Vintage Berlin School)

New Age of Earth has made a big splash! An EM without sequencer, just with effects of guitars and synths where the rhythms were finely sewn in a highly esthetic work of Manuel Gottsching. That was just before that Manuel acquires a sequencer. And therefore, the first chords of 77 Slightly Delayed outdistance us so much from this album. Although both opuses, three in fact it if we count Inventions For Electric Guitar, are confidentially connected by Göttsching's identity search, BLACKOUTS and its structures of syncopated rhythms, will orientate again the music of Manuel Göttsching who will find the dens of Ashra in the following album; Correlations. Because don't be distract by a chronological history, this BLACKOUTS is well and truly Manuel Göttsching's 3rd solo album. And if we dig farther, we could also add Dream and Desire, but this is another story....

77 Slightly Delayed starts the adventure with a plethora of bangings and pulsations with strange tones soaked of an industrial liquid, a little as if somebody is running in a tunnel with wet running shoes. A line of bass sequences pops out from there and waves frantically with keys which dance along the riffs in loops from a guitar which harmonizes its texture of rhythm with a synth and its hurdy-gurdies analog tones. Faithful to his vision, Göttsching multiplies the loops of his guitar, as much in the riffs as in the harmonies, on a lively tempo on which he also throws superb surgical solos. Precise solos which sing more than they improvise in textures as much ethereal, sometimes even esoteric, than these synth layers which add to 77 Slightly Delayed an interstellar depth. It's somewhat as if Manuel absolutely wanted to bring the rests of Nightdust here. And that will be even more edifying in Lotus. The chirpings and the cybernetic noises which open Midnight on Mars are a superficial finery of an era in what had to become a classic in de Manuel Göttsching's repertoire. These fascinating noises (we are in 78) uncork towards a shape of rhythm that a bass line catches at fly by accentuating a delicious movement of sensualism. The tsitt-tsitt of the cymbals shivers on a superb line of bass sequences as much mesmerizing as a wave-like, lascivious and sybarite cosmic groove. Manuel waters this structure of rhythm, which is as well very melodic as cosmic, with solos of a guitar bluesy and inspired. The delicacy of Göttsching in his solos is simply enthralling, otherwise voracious. Don't Trust the Kids brings us to another level with sequences which skip in a kind of a robot-like cha-cha. One would say robot wolves dancing a chaotic cha-cha. A synth whistles a peaceful melody which is pecked by riffs swirling in loops from a six-strings. The movement is delicately curt and hatched while the synth widens a balm of serenity. A fusion between the tones of the synth and the guitar bursts a little after the point of 3 minutes, watering this intergalactic cha-cha of copious solos floating of their ambiguous perfumes. The title-track binds itself to Don't Trust the Kids by pouring more ethereal guitar solos and by accelerating a pattern of rhythm become clearly more electronic.

Shuttle Cock proposes a more nervous structure with a meshing of sequences and percussions of which the flow is structuring an approach of broken dance. To me, it sounds like the ancestor of what was going to become Twelve Samplers. It's lively and Manuel affixes his riffs which nibble at the nervousness of the rhythm while spreading beautiful solos which become more aggressive as Shuttle Cock progresses. There is a beautiful permutation of the guitar and the synth roles around the 5th minute when the synth mists and the guitar, silkier here, brings a more astral, a more floating cosmic touch to the music. Even if the rhythm of Shuttle Cock tries to knock down the vapor. I always liked the long structures. In the hands of creative artists, they explode of ingenuity with splendid progressions and with surprising turnovers in their evolutions. It's exactly the grandiloquence of Lotus Part I-IV. After a short intro, which lights in me this desire to re-hear Ocean of Tenderness, some bass sequences pound nervously while the synth still spits its perfume of esotericism. The guitar! It overflies the whole thing with of majestic solos, calming a little the convulsionary movement, by joining to a synth which, skillfully, borrows the same harmonious delicacy. This is big analog EM my friends. Maybe some of you will find annoying this hyper spasmodic and very noisy phase which terrorizes the atmospheres with an uncommon aggressiveness at the 6:40 point. But it's a passage obliged in the transformation of Lotus Part I-IV which afterward coos with so much serenity as in Ocean, but with more swiftness in the rhythm. Pure candy to my ears!

BLACKOUTS is a real treat for the ears which, more than 35 years farther, preserves this unique cachet from Manuel Göttsching who had unify his minimalist structures, his spasmodic rhythms and his ethereal atmospheres in a sonic chassé-croisé that only few artists have reached.

We often speak about Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream and we tend to forget the impact of de Manuel Gottsching in the chessboard of EM. His music was and still is always a front door for structures which become updated according to eras and modes. Magnificent! And when you will be bitten by the bug of BLACKOUTS, it will go in your head and roll in loops, in loops, in loops....

Sylvain Lupari (September 24th, 2015) *****

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