ALBUM REVIEW: CAMERA – ‘Prosthuman’: the current Berlin motorik

SO, LET’S talk krautrock. In many ways, it’s all about the rhythm, isn’t it? Think Can; think Jaki Liebezeit, that perfect control, poise, underpinning. Motorik, propulsion, but also tremendous fills and patterning. Metronomic, relentless, the beating heart of the record.

Berlin’s CAMERA have that. They have their own Jaki in the shape of the excellently nominatively deterministic Michael Drummer. He’s been core personnel right through the fluid, shifting line-up permutations of the band down through the decade-plus since they formed; testimony to their power and rigour is that their first full-length release was a straight-to-tape session, Live at HBC; pretty soon afterwards they signed for Bureau B, with whom they’ve remained ever since.

They gained a reputation in Berlin as krautrock guerillas, playing flashmob gigs in tunnels down in the U-bahn, and at road junctions. Build it and they will come.

Their last album, 2018’s Emotional Detox, was distinguished by the presence of keyboard virtuosos Steffen Kahles and CAMERA founder member Timm Brockmann. (Check “Patrouille Pt.1” out for size). The two had formed the recent backbone of a band otherwise cheerfully fluid in its membership. Departing after that album, Michael found replacing them “a difficult process.”

But as Karlheinz Stockhausen said: “New methods change the experience. New experiences change man.”

The first vacancy was filled by Tim Schroeder, who had initially teamed up with CAMERA as a performance and video artist on their six-week tour of the States in 2017. He came along for a few informal jams as a synthesizer player; found a place in the music; stayed. Alex Kozmidi completed the current line-up on guitar, with Michael adding his own riffs as the situation demanded.

Prosthuman, the album was recorded over a calendar year – from June 2019 to June 2020 – and has no apparent beginning nor ending; it’s a fiery work of motorik and the music eternal, a snapshot in a year of CAMERA as a sonic flow. It was put together over many hours of the tapes rolling in the band’s studio in a less fashionable quarter in the south of Berlin.

I’m really looking forward to taking a dive.

CAMERA, photographed by Jan Michalko

Prosthuman doesn’t take time to warm up, stretch its limbs, get used to the field of play; it practically canters in with “Kartoffelstampf”, firing point-blank in acid guitar, “Mother Sky”-type pulsing bass, and Michael busy keeping that howl anchored and shifting forward. It’s fiery with distortion and wah-wah, six-strings duelling; raw, and all the better It’s great. It’s Can meet Loop in the underworld. It was also a single drop back before Christmas, so we’ve embedded the video down below.

The pace doesn’t relent; “Alar Alar” is a spooky skank, dub meets B-movie horror in swoops of synth. Think The Munsters after some very strong bud, in a commune. The partial title track, “Prosthuman/Apptime” opens up a more synthy space, quenches that guitar fire in favour of cleaner ‘tronica that sparkles and glimmers before the guitars usher in a twin lead harmony. It unfolds and meanders, happy not to be on its way anywhere pressing; it’s a placid zone before the gears and guitars shift up once more for the sligt coda, “Apptime”.

“Überall Teilchen/Teilchen Überall” (trans: “Everywhere Particles/Particles Everywhere”) is a far looser kosmiche delirium, a jam hooked down by a German voice sample that’s slowly avalanched by spooky electronics and kosmiche jam. It’s dense, and it reminds me of freakish nuggets such as The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s “Help, I’m A Rock”; “Freundschaft” is really new wave in its melody and addled, fractured advances on an intelligent pop sensibility, although still rough’n’ready, a diamond in the rough. It sounds like it could be a sketch by New Order circa “Ceremony”, and there’s nothing not to like about that. “El Ley” is pure propulsion, does that excellent krautrock thing of being the later instrumental break of a more trad rock song and cheerfully scrapes the rest into the bin so it can get on with the real fun, delights in the burble and rush of a synth groove which the guitars flood in behind and fill with soar and fuzz.

Things get weirder again as we descend into the subterranea of “Schmwarf” (trans: “Threw Away”), a thrum of spasmodic and weird groove, Berlin to its very core, dark and defiantly odd and exciting. Again there’s a buried vocal, icy, sat under a bass paying homage to The Normal. It’s a sort of krautrock death disco that will scald if you come too close, suppressed sonic fury held just in check. “A2” proceeds down the same dirty alleys with its head held high in an addictive groove, all about the chime and melt of the lead guitar line.

“Chords4/Kurz Vor” once again hoses things clean in synth prettiness before letting the fuzzlords scrawl darker textures across its smooth lines. Very much music to be in crosstown traffic to at lighting-up time, as hazard lights flare and the plazas bustle. And closer “Harmonite” stays fully urban for some lovely, open propulsion, the evening traffic loosening up in bright synth, little licks of sax tones – even some turntablism.

As noted above, Prosthuman has no traditionally constructed beginning, nor ending; it’s a almost like a diary, despatches from the ongoing CAMERA creative flow. In that sense, then, it doesn’t try to reel you in with a pebble or two of poppier intent; it’s flowing in midstream, it has its own sense of direction and purpose. It’s a good musical raft to climb aboard and blur into for a motorik trip through current Berlin guitar stylings.

CAMERA’s Prosthuman will be released by Bureau B on digital, CD and LP formats on February 19th; you can pre-order yours from the label now, here.

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