Interest sufficiently piqued? Good, since it turns out that during that period, Bartos was also keeping a secret audio diary, recording his private musical musings at the absolute zenith of Kraftwerk’s worldwide success. In 2010, Hamburg label Bureau B approached Bartos about compiling an album of previously unreleased material and the result is ‘Off the Record’, an amalgamation of 18 years’ worth of cassettes, multitracks, DATs, MIDI files and more.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is some run-of-the-mill outtakes and rarities compilation, though. This is an album proper and in fact it’s unclear just how much of the material is original and how much has been reimagined beyond all recognition by Bartos. Certainly the bulk of the pieces sound crystalline enough to have been recorded recently, though you could probably say that about most of Kraftwerk’s oeuvre too.
Check out the 1958 World’s Fair-referencing single ‘Atomium’ and tell me you don’t need to hear this record.
What a fantastically dark and brooding slice of up-tempo trip-hop we have on our hands from this Viennese quartet. The lazy but useful reference to drop is naturally Bristol scene mainstays Massive Attack, but there are shades of contemporary disco house labels like Kitsuné here too. If there is any complaint to be made, it’s only that it would have been good to hear some more original tracks from Ghost Capsules on the EP, though the remixes are a welcome distraction. Roll on the album.
‘Mass In F Minor’ is the sort of album that could only have been recorded in the sixties. A psychedelic smorgasbord of acid-fried guitar work, Gregorian chanting and orchestral embellishments, hung together with a Judeo-Christian religious concept and set against a backdrop of faintly ludicrous behind-the-scenes turmoil. It also happens to be one of my favourite albums of all time.
Believe it or not, you’ve probably already heard at least some of the record. Lead track ‘Kyrie Eleison’ featured on the soundtrack to 1969’s counter-cultural touchstone ‘Easy Rider,’ during some of the Mardi Gras scenes. Yet ‘Kyrie Eleison’ is probably the least representative song from the album, lacking as it does the sweeping string arrangements of legendary producer and composer David Axelrod.
The story of Axelrod coming to be involved with ‘Mass in F Minor’ goes something like this. By late 1967, garage rockers the Electric Prunes had already released a couple of albums and were on a respectable enough artistic trajectory. The band had just returned from a successful European tour when manager Lenny Poncher hit upon an idea: a rock music Mass to be performed by the band and written and produced by another of his clients, jazz-classical fusionist David Axelrod.
This being the sixties, the setup apparently made a lot of sense to all concerned and Axelrod duly jumped aboard, bringing with him a series of labyrinthine orchestral arrangements. The Prunes, only one of whom could read music, just about managed to interpret these across the first three songs of the album but quickly came to be regarded an unsuitable vehicle for the project.
Things came to a tragicomic denouement with the group being politely but firmly advised that they weren’t good enough to play on their own album, with session musicians drafted in to record the remaining tracks. Producer Dave Hassinger retained the rights to the band’s name and would exploit this on subsequent releases. Meanwhile, shorn of their identity and without any material, the original Electric Prunes quickly disbanded and were swallowed by obscurity.
Purists rage about the blithe destruction of an otherwise perfectly good garage band for the sake of what they perceive as a bizarre folly, laying the blame squarely at the feet of Axelrod and Hassinger. Pity for them, then, that ‘Mass In F Minor,’ like its heavily sampled follow-up ‘Release Of An Oath,’ is a far more interesting document of its time than anything ever released by the original Prunes.
Despite the orchestration, it’s the druggy, searing lead guitar lines that stride atop each song, supported by seriously weighty bass and some thunderous drumming. Given the ostensibly religious concept of the album, it’s perhaps ironic that the lyrics, which are sung almost entirely in Latin, come off as a complete irrelevance, lending the album even more of a trippy vibe but precious little else.
Obvious touch points include Jefferson Airplane, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and any number of Summer of Love contemporaries. Truthfully though, ‘Mass In F Minor’ stands alone, managing to function in its 32 minutes as a receptacle for all the outlandish excesses of rock music in the sixties. Indeed, it’s perhaps because of these indulgences that the record remains a uniquely essential relic of psychedelia.