Karl Bartos

Off the Record

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When the Bureau B label contacted Karl Bartos and showed interest in releasing any archival material he might have laying around the lab, the former Kraftwerk member (that is, "classic lineup" member, joining for the Autobahn tour and leaving somewhere between Electric Cafe and The Mix) wasn't interested. After all, he's a never-look-back futurist, but as the liner notes to Off the Record explain, he's an open-minded futurist as well and allowed this initially rejected idea to morph into something new. Kicking off with "Atomium" -- a grand bit of robot techno and possible sequel to Kraftwerk's "Radioactivity" -- Off the Record uses Bartos' archival tapes, zip drives, or computer files from 1975 to 1993 as its foundation, then mashes these off-hours audio sketches (recorded "off the record" from his usual band) with new ideas, overdubs, and vocoder vocals. Viennese-flavored highlight "International Velvet" is built from a 1981 idea captured during a Kraftwerk soundcheck, while the great "Rhythmus" comes from the audio sketchbook where "Numbers" and "Trans-Europe Express" were first doodled, so expect a hypnotic, percussive track that is perfect for breakdancing and planet rocking. Picking out Bartos' contribution to Kraftwerk becomes a different game when the hard-slamming "Hausmusik" suggests he was the driving force behind all the heavy "Boing Boom Tschak" found on Computer World or Electric Cafe, but it's not all back to the future as the dreamy, non-vocodered "Without a Trace of Emotion" is the same strain of synth pop Bartos' usual solo records explore. There are some big, garish, and loose moments here that would never be mistaken as coming from the old crew of robots, so fanatics seeking that Ralf and Florian style of restraint will certainly be thrown. Others will find their respect for Bartos has grown after a listen, and once the revelations settle, Off the Record feels like an enjoyable journey back to "Ohm Sweet Ohm."

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