Phantom Of Liberty

It can be worthwhile and cathartic to wax wistfully upon lingering notions of the future, but sometimes the past in which those ideas were expectantly cultivated may refuse to comply. When Berlin trio Camera released their first album, Radiate, on Kosmische chronicling label Bureau B in 2012, they sounded to me like newborn runts in a very determined and capable litter. The influences of their 1970s’ forefathers were worn openly and brazenly, to the point that it could be considered simple pastiche or even plagiarism. Despite Michael Rother and Dieter Moebius proclaiming Camera as the real deal and comparisons with the likes of NEU! and La Dusseldorf, particularly with regards to their propulsive ferocity and Michael Drummer’s punishing replication of Klaus Dinger’s now iconic motorik beat, Camera struck me as charlatans.

It wasn’t entirely their fault. The German groups and artists who pioneered truly new conceptions of pop music 40 years ago have become the default setting for so many plod-rockers of recent times who want to show off their idiosyncratic music tastes and breathe life into their extant musical careers by waving a copy of Tago Mago over the lifeless cadaver. Slapping the motorik beat onto an otherwise generic blues-rock number has, over the last 20 years, become a modern equivalent to weary long-running bands in the early 1990s’ suddenly discovering dance music and the funky drummer break. Given the importance of the regenerative “newness” inherent to the hastily and nastily monikered “Krautrock”, why would anyone wish to listen to a distant replicant?

But now we have Phantom of Liberty, Camera’s third album, and I find my opinion of them drastically revised. Suddenly, Camera sound like fully paid-up members fit to stand shoulder to shoulder with their peers and mentors. Taking its title from a 1974 Luis Bunuel film, in which random narratives are spiked and connections unravelled via surrealist tactics, Phantom of Liberty begins with ‘Affenfaust’ which does indeed sound like a turbo-charged reboot of something off NEU! 75. Yet, it brims with vigour and clarity as it burns down that much traversed trans-superhighway with steely-eyed resolve before disintegrating into astral fumes and a bemused English gentleman querying why you can’t hear the lyrics (Camera are, random samples aside, predominately instrumental).

It’s as though Camera are invoking a hauntological form of kosmische music, a disinterring of historical artefacts in order to make some form of sense out of the future that never arrived, never even came close, four decades gone by. This line of thinking reaches its apogee on hearing ‘Reindenken/Raus’ in which a mode similar to Can’s ethnographic forgeries is seemingly employed, that of a field recording taken from some interzonal Fourth World and deployed for the artists’ benefits; only the implied forgery in this case is that of an off-cut from Future Days. Elsewhere, ‘Nevernine’ stomps forth like Tangerine Dream meeting The Sweet while ‘Festus’ slinks and slides along hazy as a sun-dazed river snaking through a forest glade. The silky night glide of ‘Tjamahal’ make it easy to envisage being used in a Michael Mann film, preferably one made around 1982.

All is propulsion, constant forward acceleration, each track a different gear of the same machine. At times it feels overdriven and manic, at others it coasts dreamily along as though Camera are in search of rural retreat and their own Harmonia. Phantom of Liberty is relentlessly derivative yet, in its depiction of once imagined futures never attained, it offers a beacon of optimism and of a better reality. Final track, ‘Tribal Mango’, reuses that old space rock trope of a starship attempting to attain lunar orbit, radio comms crackling as far-distant frontiers are briefly glimpsed. I want to go with Camera.

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