The Five Must Hear Krautrock Songs of 2012

Lower Dens. Photo: Shawn Brackbill

If you’re not particularly fond of foreign cars, krautrock is arguably Germany’s finest export of the past century. There’s an unwritten rule that says in order to be considered an intermediate record collector, you must have at least one Can, Neu!, or Kraftwerk album in your collection and among musicians, it’s about as fast a ticket an artist can get to aesthetic legitimacy as saying their favorite Velvet Underground song is “Sister Ray.” Some of 2012’s finest songs have adopted the elements of the genre, sculpting them into their image and bolstering their own styles in the process. Here are five examples of how to do kraut correctly from acts that aren’t typically known for their kraut leanings.

1. Lower Dens, “Brains”

The motorik beat that opens the first single from the Baltimore quartet’s high-minded opus Nootropics was a surprise in and of itself. The layered textures, rise in tension, and peaking climax made “Brains” not only absolutely stunning, but also one of the year’s very best singles. So good, in fact, that the track following it on the album is simply a two-minute addendum. Nootropics is out now on Ribbon Music.

2. Lotus Plaza, “Remember Our Days”

Forever typecast in Deerhunter as the quiet, studious John Cale to Bradford Cox’s mercurial Lou Reed, Lockett Pundt’s second album as Lotus Plaza, Spooky Action at a Distance, came out to mild anticipation and unbelievable impact; its sleepy-eyed vocals and loud, distorted guitars served as a reminder of where the term “shoegaze” got its name. On the album’s penultimate track, Pundt puts a wistful, melancholy spin on krautrock, reminiscing over farmland and bidding a heartfelt goodbye. The album’s central lyric: “If I don’t see you again/I’m glad that you were my friend.” Simultaneously airy, sad, and metronomic, “Remember Our Days” is how connected to the heart the pulse really is. Spooky Action at a Distance is available now on Kranky.

3. DIIV, “Wait”

TDIIV’s debut album Oshin only subtly borrows from krautrock, but it’s most clearly evident on “Wait,” with its driving beat and dreamy synths coasting in the foreground throughout. DIIV captain Zachary Cole Smith blurs the lines between genres effectively, and “Wait” is built with several parts: the pulsating bass, the liberal use of reverb and then bathed almost completely in noise during the final minute. Oshin is available now via Captured Tracks.

4. Moon Duo, “Sleepwalker”

With both Moon Duo and his rock-oriented main band Wooden Shjips, Ripley Johnson has always taken a far more profound influence from krautrock than most bands west of the Autobahn, employing uncomplicated beats and trance-like repetition in most of his work. “Sleepwalker” takes a woozier approach to his method, the effects on his guitar blending perfectly with the synthesizers and Suicide-like handclaps. Speaking of the latter, Johnson’s vocals take on a sexier tone, greatly resembling the come-ons of Alan Vega before pushing the track revs up and slowly comes to a stop. Circles arrives October 2 on Sacred Bones.

5. Mind Spiders, “Fall in Line”

Last seen on our Hive Five on the year’s overlooked garage records, Meltdown is designed to be taken into two parts: The urgent garage-punk of the first side and the science fiction horror film electronics of the second. Side A’s closing track melds the two styles together, with frontman Mark Ryan blasting a three-chord lick while synthesizers drone underneath. Then, it drives further and further until the guitars and keys quickly and substantially disintegrate, leaving you to flip over the side to see exactly what everything has melted into. Meltdown is out now on Dirtnap.

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