Das Rad - Adios Al Futuro
Downtown Music Gallery NY
Let’s open simply with: wow. Rarely am I rendered speechless by a recording, but when those moments occur, it’s pure heavenly euphoria. This, the second Das Rad joint, isn’t your father’s prog-fuelled space truckin’ by any stretch of the imagination. Hell, to just blithely brandish the trio’s music with the dusty sobriquet ‘prog’ does it an extraordinary injustice; it’s necessary to fully ingest this steadfastedly progressive music, one that encompasses the many shadings and layers summoned in that phrase. “Fusion” works here too, in as much as the trio effortlessly, cleverly, and brilliantly foment works that walk in the footsteps of the pioneering legends of the 70s while making their own profound mark. It’s high time the world caught up with the three chaps who comprise Das Rad: Discus labelhead, saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Martin Archer, drummer/percussionist Steve Dinsdale, and guitarist Nick Robinson (all three double up on electronics as well). This is a group who know their musical history and drinks deep of that musical history but chooses not to maximize or exploit the very clichés of that musical history.
What percolates throughout is triumphant, strident in the extreme, even caustic at moments, but possessed of singular invention and determination, its influences mere residue, echoes, callback. As syrupy strains of mellotron peek out from the opening minutes of “Inside Reverse”, Archer’s sax effects a splatterfest of fallout settling upon the synthetic, radioactive terrain; when Robinson’s guitars and Dinsdale’s probing cymbals arrive they cut across the acrid electronic tones with scythe-like ferocity.
Ghosts of the past rear their ectoplasmic heads while the music proceeds apace: Archer refracts glimmers of Mel Collins navigating the most scintillating King Crimson sides; Dinsdale channels synth and sequencer miasmas rescued from Dreams Tangerine in color and drumbeats timed to psychedelic prayers inside Ash Ra Tempels; Robinson works a mojo of Fripp/Pinhas intensity, with shout-outs to McLaughlin, Gottsching, even Makoto Kawabata.
Electronics don’t act as mere coloration, either; they’re integral to shaping and expanding the huge canvas on which the trio operates, despite the intense torture all three players visit upon their respective acoustics. It all makes for a head-spinning, confrontational, galvanizing experience, made all the more apparent once you glance inside the gatefold sleeve at the illustrations of the world’s notorious Un-fab Four of Boris Johnson, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, and Donald Trump. Basically, Das Rad ain’t foolin’ around: takin’ no priz’nas on their Kubrickian trip, a far-out space odyssey energized by post-millennial tensions, and, politics aside, this is a record for the times, the endtimes, and the ages. Ears be blown here, folks.
Much – maybe most – of the best music coming out of Britain at the moment has Martin Archer’s thumbprint on it, either as player or enabler through his eclectic Discus imprint.
Das Rad is an improv album from the times, with modified portraits of BoJo, Vlad the Invader, Little Rocket Man and his American pal, the you’ve-been-Tangoed POTUS in a rogues’ gallery inside. There’s even a little origami-like doohickey included with the set which turns into a trompe l’oeil cube.
Not that you’ll be distracted from the music long enough. Archer’s ability to meld elements of jazz, free rock, krautrock, electronica, country, blues, folk, classical and just the sounds of everyday is second to none. He has long since outrun genre and Das Rad is no exception.
It’s a very nicely paced album as improv dates go. The three longer tracks are interleaved with shorter pieces. Pretty much everyone gets a whirl on keyboards, which makes it appropriately difficult at places to work out who’s doing what but Archer’s reeds, Nick Robinson’s guitars and Steve Dinsdale’s drums are the reference points and the homespun power-trio references aren’t overlooked.
This is a group that can generate some noise, or go into quieter and more detailed mode. The original krautrockers often didn’t know when to knock it off and crack a smile. Das Rad’s sense of impending disaster doesn’t stop them having a chuckle. Come November, we might well be needing it.
News from Das Rad! Just over a year and a half after the untitled debut, the second album Adios Al Futuro followed in May 2020. The Struwwelpeter is emblazoned on the cover, and when you open the flip cover, you can see the friendly faces of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Kim-Jong Un and Boris Johnson. This quartet (errr) can give you the idea of saying goodbye to the future, but what about the Struwwelpeter? Who knows.
Anyway, the cast of Das Rad still consists of Nick Robinson, Martin Archer and Steve Dinsdale. Musically, the weights have shifted somewhat. The kraut-rock influences and with them the motor rhythm of the debut have largely disappeared, instead one moves more towards a crimsoid jazz rock. Accordingly, the electronics take a back seat and often leave more space for Martin Archer’s saxophone; The guitar, which is angularly sawn in twisted lines, ensures the crimsoid impact. Corresponding passages were already on the debut, but now they take up more space. The introductory Inside Reverse is a wonderful example of this, it is somewhat reminiscent of newer things from King Crimson. The music rolls almost painfully slowly, with the guitar always wilder capers. This piece is quite characteristic of a large part of the album, whereby in the further course an increasingly jazzy component is added when Martin Archer blows the saxophone more often. Occasionally, the pace increases somewhat (Buzz Line, Oslo Star, for example), but mostly it remains rather reserved.
In addition, there are also moments of free sound tinkering, in which the tones are apparently randomly thrown into confusion in order to unite to strange but fascinating abstract structures. Deuce of Gears or the beginning of Rothko Strobe / Another Day, for example. Finally, there is largely acoustic piece with Eisblume, in which delicate guitar plucking is combined with a slightly oriental-looking soprano saxophone.
Adios Al Futuro is a worthy successor to the excellent debut of the trio, and takes a somewhat different musical direction. Another highlight of the prog year 2020!
Das Rad the second. So now you have a two-wheeler … let’s see how it goes on. Maybe in a few years you will be on the road with a multi-axle semi-trailer. Nick Robinson, Martin Archer and Steve Dinsdale have put almost an hour of music on record this time, which, like the sounds on the debut (see “Das Rad”), is not so easy to classify stylistically. But you can see yourself in the classic prog tradition. While the CD of the debut imitated the historical Harvest label, the disc is now adorned with an imitation of the first label on the Chrysalis LPs. However, the music doesn’t sound like Jethro Tull, Ten Years After or Gentle Giant.
There is a colorful, improvised, multi-layered instrumental program on the ears, generated with a fairly extensive range of electronic instruments, determined by Robinson’s electric guitar, extensively supplemented by Archer’s blowers, and often rhythmically driven by Dinsdale’s percussion. Key surfaces and electronics provide the sonorous basis, sometimes Mellotron-like or other retro-oriented keyboard sounds, over which the three protagonists then improvise and tinker with sound. Despite certain borrowings from the music of bygone times, especially some Crimsonesk reminiscences, the music sounds quite modern, sometimes gets into post-rock realms, or moves forward in a timeless jazzy-rock manner. The krautaceous references that can sometimes be made out on the first fruit are actually missing here; But the music still sounds a bit like Canterbury, especially when Archers sax trumps or an electric piano pearls. Sometimes you’re just bustling, floating and halls in free format.
If we simply call the whole thing retro-modern instrumental prog with avant tendencies, it is not infrequently slightly oblique and angular. The music often works its way dynamically and rhythmically, interrupted from time to time by more freely designed islands of sound, which then squint a little towards ambient / electronics. There are more frequent passages in “Tiefes Blau”, which closes the album with a voluminous echo. Despite the German title, this number doesn’t sound like Krautrock either. Again, the music is more reminiscent of freer sound-painting products from the extended King Crimson and Stickprog environment (e.g. you can hear “Roppongi” by the Stick Men with Mel Collins on sax). “Adios Al Futuro” is a bit more electronic than it is usually the case there, but unusual, more experimental and more jazzy.
You can see why the album is called that – Jochen already mentioned it above – when you open the cardboard part in which the CD is. Erdogan, Orbán, Duda, Lukashenka and … really doesn’t look great. The sound is great, but I’m not so sure whether the occasional distorted-overdriven crunch (e.g. in the second half of the title track) is intended. Probably already. Anyway, if you really like progressive sounds and can do without vocals, you should give the album a listen.
Martin Archer must be one of the busiest men in music. Not content with running Discus, every other release seems to have some involvement from him, covering so many different styles and moods it is remarkable. Here we find him teaming up once again as Das Rad with Nick Robinson and Steve Dinsdale for another improvised excursion into noir-ish soundscape territory. Adios Al Futuro is the follow up to 2018’s self-titled release and finds them edging into other territories, as well as the propulsive workouts that were so addictive on that album. sounding like there are so many more players involved
The division of labour is essentially drums, guitars and woodwind, but all the players use electronics and that puts a whole other perspective onto this nominal trio, because it ends up sounding like there are so many more players involved. The opening track “Inside Reverse” is a long one and starts with a calming yet awakening horn intro, which feels like a measured warming up, the trip sounding out possibilities.
The horns prod and search, and an organ shifts in the background, providing shadow and shelter; the calm before the guitar storm that erupts, dragging hissing cymbals in its wake. The sax is the colour of dusky, bruised clouds and the tension is palpable as the track moves raptor-like, the delightful synth bass moving it far from jazz and deep into noirscape territory with the guitar an incandescent ache. all classical guitar and misty morning clarinet, alive with tambourine.
It is quite an introduction and the following pieces don’t let it down. The Trans Am-like synth groove of “Buzz Line” is an interesting melange of romantic sax and simmering guitar, a paean to love and a revolt against the idiocy of the world leader photographs featured on the gatefold. There is a lot of hope and belief on Adios Al Futuro, with some of the tracks taking a gentle route to opening our eyes. “Deuse Of Gears”‘ Ryuchi Sakamoto-style synths and forgotten fireworks give an Eastern shape-shifting vibe, while the pastoral “Eisblume” is all classical guitar and misty morning clarinet, alive with tambourine. a deft and charming series of exploratory sketches.
The synth bass is quite a secret weapon, and although it has a tendency to reflect some gleaming ’80s atmosphere in the title track, I can see Mikhail Baryshnikov whirling around an empty ballroom, weighing up his options of escape. In a similar vein, “Rothko Strobe” feels like a continuation of some of David Sylvian‘s woodland synth experiments, but it lays a fine bed with chattering guitars and immense drums, all sweetness and nature. These three really bring some gorgeous work out of one another, and it would be lovely to see how this translates to a live setting. It could be that Das Rad is just a studio bound project; but either way, the album is a deft and charming series of exploratory sketches.
Adios Al Futuro ends with the melodica laden “Tiefes Blau”, which chugs at an almost slowcore pace, allowing plenty of time for the players to wind around one another as it gradually at points winds into the aether until it gently comes to a halt. This is another success for Das Rad and on the strength of this, there is nothing the three can’t turn their hands to. I am already looking forward to the next installment.