Saturday, March 7, 2015

GERMAN ARMY "Clan Chieftans" (Handmade Birds)



Full disclosure: German Army are one of my favorite bands. Whenever I find one of their releases digging through cassettes I get this giddy wave of excitement. It’s like finding a 20 dollar bill on the ground.Their approach to industrial music is a thoroughly modern one, so much so that I feel guilty lumping them in with other bands of the sort when their style touches on so many different ideas and sounds. Their enigmatic presence and dizzying discography only adds to the intrigue in an era where so many groups go to great lengths to digitize their existence for the world to see.

This release, on Handmade Birds, a Texas tape label, puts the number of German Army releases well into the high 20’s, a staggering number of small run cassettes for a band that formed in 2011. The intensity of their documentation is a huge part of the bands lure. It’d be a sisyphean task to collect all their releases, but going through their catalogue traces a constellation that highlights some of the stellar tape labels operating in the international DIY network, akin to the famous Nurse With Wound list that charted a different era of out sounds.

Sonically, the easiest point of comparison may be Throbbing Gristle, but German Army separate themselves from the pack with a fascination and fixation on a sort of dark, forgotten exotica, which is featured heavily on this cassette. The tape opens with a scorching track that channels the chaos of Cantonese opera or Indonesian street music, before opening up into a dark, chilled out track with the bands signature, lurching electronic drums. Vocals exist on some tracks, but are either so hushed that they serve as just another lead line or are so dementedly mangled and modulated that they feel sourced from the mouth of Pazuzu. The only bad thing you can say about a band like this is that some of their releases feel like they’re protean forms of still shaping ideas. One track in particular, starts off sounding like a deep, dubbed out track and then immediately changes gears with a thirty second segue of tribal percussion. One gets the feeling that for all the tracks that make it into the cassette, volumes more get left on the cutting room floor, that everything is documented and preserved in a vault somewhere for eventual release. The urge to release so much provides us a window into the evolution of the groups thought process.


This album definitely has a research and development sort of feel to it, but it contains a bit of just about everything this band does. If this sounds like a train you want to ride I’d advise getting ahold of a copy as soon as you finish reading this sentence as it’ll be scarce sooner rather than later.

- - Tim Johnson

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