Surprises: we claim to love them, perhaps to project a ‘just go with it’ posture and free spirit spontaneity, and they are truly cherished when they’re either incredibly beneficial – winning the lottery — or incredibly banal — oh my, that bouquet of flowers she received sure was unforeseen. Those scripts aside, we tend to dip in the tedium of gray rather than the stochasticity arising out of the blue. Surprises can be terrifying, because to submit to them is to submit control of one’s environment. Routine, the rigid everyday we’ve toiled to erect and safeguard, becomes irrelevant in the cruel wake of chance.
Faust was always the black sheep of krautrock, histrionic, hysterical, and at times, unparalleled. Submitting to these fellas was to submit to one hell of a jarring ride, the sort that would in all likelihood traverse a dizzying sea of temperaments and textures, mercilessly flinging audiences from side to side, only sparing those entranced and eccentric enough to dust themselves off and follow these incantatory trails into the darkness. The Hamburg outfit was never particularly abrasive on the musical plane, but their trajectory was endlessly serpentine and flighty.
Now 40 years after its debut full-length and splintered into two separate acts under the same moniker (this one features original members Jean-Hervé Péron and Zappi Diermaier whereas the second boasts Hans Joachim Irmler and his cohorts), the German rock ‘n’ roll institution that is Faust keeps on keepin’ on with yet another mystifying effort to pin us on our toes and portray visions as perplexing as they are powerful.
Bleary opener ‘Tell The Bitch To Go Home’ actually ushers Something Dirty in rather conventionally, the scabrous romp relying more on hard-charging verve than abstract or eldritch dimensions. It’s a pleasant dash of fresh air from the kraut legends, straight-shooting and stout, though it hardly serves as a harbinger of the ensuing tracks with newcomer Geraldine Swayne (of UK rockers …Bender) providing a doleful pseudo-trip-hop vibe to the two entries on which she sings lead — ‘Lost The Signal’ and ‘Insivible Mending’ — communicating through the breathy gyres emitted on the iciest of nights while other cuts warble, whir, and whinny in as spooky a fashion as one could imagine.
2-minute number ‘Whet’ stomps ardently from the ocean floor, waters astir, sand tickling the surface so as to conceal this clandestine march to shore. Mid-rhythm, against the grain of our ingrate civilization, the tune devolves into an earth-shaking drone of sweeping dominion akin to all of this world’s machinery turning on us in one fell swoop. Then just as swiftly, the track crawls back into its aquatic nook, content to have merely raised hairs and fears alike.
One of the most riveting fibers within Faust’s oeuvre has long been its poise. Songs could dip and dart with the best of them, but they could seldom elude the sang-froid these Germans had flowing through their veins, governing the course of their nervy impulses. ‘Herbststimmung’ evokes this quality once more, gleaming with a grand luminosity beneath the racket of wiry feedback, coughing up the consummate melody to grasp onto amid a torrid maelstrom. Meanwhile, ‘La Sole Dorée’ deploys a terrific alternative to radiance, at first sprightly and almost dream-pop-ish, but the band has far dimmer designs in store as echo-littered voices descend from the skies to surround our dangling vessels of susceptibility, never reciprocating our gaze and menacing to snap at any instant. Distortion rips into the words which seem to magnify as they’re snuffed out, wailing from the heart of the tempest, opting for distance over directness in order to whisper their truths into earshot. We can’t face and subsequently vanquish an ambush that never arrives, we’re left continually peering over our shoulders for the telltale augury to sound our demise.
Of course, loose cannons are hardly paragons of consistency and the album does misfire on a few of the guitar-oriented tracks. ‘Dampfauslass 2? and ‘Pythagoras’ are probably the two least intriguing trips on show, raucous and brazen, but without the destination to validate the din. The pair simply tears into abject nothingness, unable to contain its energy and without a plan of attack as well, tying knots on itself to the point where one couldn’t tell which end is up.
Thankfully, that fabled composure is revisited on the 7-minute title track impelled by Diermaier’s fantastically propulsive tribal drumming, screaming and stopping on such an acute dime we’re liable to topple over the scarp altogether. Veils of fuzz gracefully lilt in the stratosphere, lapping up against our legs, occasionally electrified by scabrous nips of guitar, painting the vault of heaven a blinding white fit to consume colors and colonies whole. And just as Faust begins to unroll its gargantuan stature, it tapers down on ‘Thoughts Of The Dead’, a maundering track replete with spectral fizzes and meditative dialogue lamenting the ghostly shadows we can’t muster the gall to shake.
We’re on edge, teetering on a precipice atop a shroud of bottomless brutality. It’s excruciating to ponder the circumstances greeting our fall, provided it comes to pass. Maybe it’s better that it does, the wait can often trump what follows. Yet in the firm hands of Faust, in the crossfire between figment and fact, it’s kind of exhilarating to have our strings pulled and buttons pushed.