At the bottom of many Treble reviews, we provide a “Similar Albums” list of good musical reference points for the album being discussed-others might say “Sounds Like” or “Recommended if You Like (RIYL).” Current and past albums flesh out a current or new album being reviewed, but things get a bit fuzzier when reviewing reissued albums. Do you point to similar albums from the heyday of the artist in question, or do you look at albums that came afterwards and contain sonic and stylistic similarities? A reissue of Harmonia’s Tracks and Traces is a subject that manages both a look back from whence it came and a look forward to what it wrought.
Thanks to a flurry of late-’00s activity-their Live 1974 release, a spate of reunion shows at music-snob festivals-the Krautrock supergroup strengthened their status as contemporaries of more established acts like Tangerine Dream, as well as the group members’ primary bands Neu! and Cluster. Tracks and Traces documents the founding, foundering, then found-again act’s 11-day encounter with producer and Roxy Music castoff Brian Eno. When their tapes were rediscovered and first released in 1997, the Rykodisc label credited the album to Harmonia ’76. This new edition adds Eno’s name to the mix and, whether it’s because this album’s first time around was just a dozen years ago or because the other big difference is three new tracks, that formal acknowledgment of presence in addition to time and place may be the most important feature here.
Eno hooked up with Harmonia at a crossroads not just for rock in general, where acts like Pink Floyd were dressing up their psychedelia with technology and manufactured atmospherics, but for his own solo career. He was unknowingly coming to the end of a series of four electronic art-rock releases-he was between Another Green World and what would become Before and After Science-and had also just put out the landmark ambient album Discreet Music. This pair of stylistic palettes would color Tracks and Traces but Eno’s tape-manipulation-influenced work would win the day, as the original nine-song set saw Harmonia skipping back to the ambience of their debut Musik Von Harmonia, favoring it over the more driving rhythms of 1974’s Deluxe.
Eno contributed string figures and some lyrics and vocals to songs like “Luneberg Heath,” but even without them there remains a distinct edge and murkiness to the music. The flowing waves of songs like “Vamos Companeros” and “Sometimes in Autumn” threatening to pull listeners under more so than the work of Kraftwerk. Still, there is some peace to be found in the “Almost”/ “Les Demoiselles”/ “When Shade was Born” triptych and, eerily enough, the three newly found tracks that bookend the album and presage the warped loops of Boards of Canada.
Shortly after this musical flirtation, Harmonia would dissolve in favor of Cluster and related work from its members Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius. Brian Eno, meanwhile, began playing with David Bowie on what would evolve into the legendary “Berlin trilogy.” While it’s dandy to be peerless and untouchable as those albums would become, the music of Harmonia & Eno ’76 not only finds peers but serves as a touchpoint for critically acclaimed work almost two generations forward.