Of all the bands in the fertile and wildly creative early ’70s German scene that the English music press dubbed “Krautrock,” Kraftwerk had the most commercial success and influence, Can the most innovative approach, and Neu! the most distinctive sound. But four decades on, the music of Harmonia in many ways sounds the most timeless, and it is certainly the most beautiful.
Now these obscure heroes finally have gotten the deluxe treatment with a five-disc/LP box set that rounds up all of the music they made from 1973 to 1976, including the official albums Musik von Harmonia and Deluxe; a set of “lost” recordings with Brian Eno; a live set from 1974, and other audio rarities, along with a 36-page book, a poster, and a pop-up artwork of the band’s rural hideout in Forst, Lower Saxony.
And here Christmas is just around the corner!
Pioneers of ambient music and analog synthesizer technology, Dieter Moebius (who died in July at age 71) and Hans Joachim Roedelius (now 81) were working as Cluster before Harmonia, and they’d return to being a duo after Harmonia ended. But the two always did their best work in collaboration with a third partner, either with Brian Eno or with guitarist Michael Rother. Best known as half of Neu! along with mercurial drummer Klaus Dinger, Rother joined Moebius and Roedelius for a new project when Neu! went on sabbatical after its second album. Harmonia’s music is more expansive and much less direct than Neu!’s, that famous, driving “motorik” beat, but the combination of fluffy clouds of synthesizer drones and Rother’s gorgeous, melodic, and serpentine guitar lines is nothing short of breathtaking.
If not exactly “the world’s most important rock group,” as Eno once proclaimed, Harmonia certainly deserves to be remembered among the greats of its time, and the lesser-known material collected in this set—including the jam sessions with Eno dubbed Tracks and Traces, recorded as the band was coming to its end—strengthens that argument and makes for a blissful electronic-music soundtrack that still defines the genre and stands as one of its greatest achievements.
Harmonia, Complete Works (Groenland Records)
Rating on the 4-star scale: 4 stars.