Indie supergroup reinvent krautrock in an Ohio church
Nearly 50 years ago, Can decamped to Schloss Nörvenich, a 15th century castle on the outskirts of Cologne, and developed a rigorous sonic aesthetic that was aped by many, including Robert Fripp’s colossal King Crimson, but rarely executed quite so well. The approach taken during their tenure at the castle was to endlessly improvise, sometimes for hours at a stretch, and then ruthlessly edit down those intense jam sessions into discrete tracks. Although the press biography for LNZNDRF says quite literally nothing about Can, the trio of Ben Lanz (a member of the Beirut/The National touring set-ups, he’s the LNZ) and The National’s Scott and Bryan Devendorf (they’re the DRF) are in thrall to at least the methods of Can, if not their actual sound.
Their debut album is, like Can’s finest work, formed out of long-form improvisations recorded not in a castle, but in a church in Cincinnati. The environment imbues these recordings with a stunning atmospheric resonance full of earthy echo and cavernous ambience, but it’s the jams themselves that steal the show here.
Whereas some improvised recordings capture a degree of raw spontaneity, the eight pieces on ‘LNZNDRF’ feel more like instant compositions, carrying no sense of rough edges or of ideas being developed in the moment. A lot of this album suggests rigorous repetition until the final form revealed itself absolutely. If it wasn’t for an appreciation of the way that these songs were executed in the first place you’d be hard-pressed to identify that they’d been spawned from a live recording session at all. It’s only during moments like the extended coda on ‘Mt Storm’, where guitar clusters and droning textures seem to splinter off like shards of brittle glass over a fractured electronic beat, that you sense the trio are feeling it out as they go.
The songs here fuse together chiming guitars and drums with subtle synths and electronic processing, along with occasional vocals that suggest an affinity with the likes of The Sea And Cake’s Sam Prekop. Though they occasionally rely on sparseness (see tracks like the soulful, jerky tenderness of ‘Kind Things’ or ‘Monument’), this trio are also adept at using dense harmonic layers to fill out their sound. To further confound things, the squalling electronics of the brief ‘Stars And Time’ sounds like the inner workings of a vast malfunctioning 1960s computer, all bleeps and skittering, detuned rhythms.
The best moments, however, are those that lock into a heavy, relentless forward motion, propelled by rolling drums that recall Klaus Dinger from Neu!, Can’s Jaki Liebezeit or any pattern that Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth has ever laid down. Opener ‘Future You’, the droning ‘Samarra’ and the slowly-evolving ‘Hypno-Skate’ sound perfectly tuned in to the first Neu! album, riffing off those clinically precise grooves into the ozone and beyond. And yet, the pinnacle of that series of tracks, ‘Beneath The Black Sea’, somehow manages to improbably join the dots between that pivotal album and New Order’s ‘Movement’, finding space for sombre melodic grandeur in among the chugging grooves. The word epic just doesn’t do it justice. Hands down, my new favourite band.