Monday, 28 December 2020

Kraan - Sandglass (2020)

Country: Germany
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 2 Oct 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website | Wikipedia

I hadn't previously heard of Kraan, but they've been a band for longer than I've been alive and I turn fifty in three months. They've also kept a pretty consistent line-up over the years, with guitarist Peter Wolbrandt and bassist Helmut Hattler being founder members who never left the band. Drummer Jan Fride did, for a few years between 1978 and 1984, but otherwise he's been there throughout too. That's the core band, though there are a few guests here and there too.

They apparently started out playing krautrock, but gradually morphed into a jazz fusion take on prog rock. This is their fourteenth studio album, arriving a full decade after its predecessor, Diamonds, and it's a thoroughly enjoyable one, even if it feels a little safe. There are no extended jams here, though many of the thirteen songs on offer are instrumentals and some run neatly into others. Gleis 10 into Pick Peat means eleven minutes without any voice, and those are the longest two songs here.

The most experimental they get is perhaps on the title track that opens the album but, oddly, it's the most commercial they get too. The vocals are distorted and pleasantly robotic, while the music plays along with that, melodic and melodious but with effects and colours and distortions here and there. There are hints at world music, only hints but enough to bring solo Peter Gabriel to mind. It isn't his voice in the slightest, but it sounds like something he might do as a single.

I really like Sandglass and Funky Blue too, which follows it. This is a mostly instrumental piece, with a prog guitar over what often feels like a reggae beat. It's part Alan Parsons Project and part the Police, but this is jazzier and perkier and a little less electronic. None of these songs are long, with only one reaching the five minute mark, but this is one that I wished was a lot longer; it's one of a trio of songs to wrap up in under three minutes.

My other highlight right now is Hallo Kante, which again mixes up Alan Parsons but this time with an Eric Clapton guitar at his most mellow and melodies straight out of sixties psychedelic pop. There are a lot of pieces of music here that could be seen as highlights, but I believe it's an album to grow with. The title track may be a catchy single and a few other songs get there at points, but this isn't the sort of album that stamps itself on your brain. It floats around you and you gradually focus in on the bits that speak to you.

Everything here is upbeat, even a song like Solitude, whose very title suggests it won't be but a guest tambourinist, Juergen Schlachter, has other ideas. Almost everything is smooth too, so letting it just wash over you will improve your mood without you realising it. Wolbrandt's guitar especially avoids abrasion; it's easy to just dismiss him as easy listening until we realise what he's actually doing. That one note smooth guitar is actually doing a heck of a lot of things: funky things, soulful things, bluesy things, jazzy things. It just takes a while to reconcile what he does on Solitude or Funky Blue with the Hippie Jam that closes out the album.

And the album follows his lead. It's immediately enjoyable, but it takes time for everything to sink in and realise just how much is here behind such a bright and inoffensive veneer.

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