Bill Gillim (Megafortress) Talks Faust’s jUSt

Forty-three years later, Faust is still the sound of crazy Europeans shredding any accepted idea of rock music.

I have a dark and embarrassing secret that I’ve kept about my personal history with the music of Faust. Years ago, when I was just out of college and selling tickets at a Boston movie theater, I stole money from work to buy the new Faust Wumme Years box set. I had gotten into the bad habit of selling comp tickets at full price and pocketing the money. I liked to think I was performing noble acts of charity for myself and my co-workers, buying us expensive takeout sushi dinners while we sold corn dogs and popcorn, but really I did it to buy things like the Faust box set. I needed that box set. Faust was still a recent discovery for me at the time, and their music (introduced to me by a cantankerous South Carolinian with a giant record collection), had burned a hole in my mind and opened me up to a whole new realm of experimental music.

There was a sort of legendary mystery surrounding Faust. Their mythology was fascinating — a group of hermit weirdos who had never made a record got a major label deal and moved into a farmhouse to record psychedelic freak-outs at all hours of the night, producing four seminal German psych classics in three years. I’d heard most of the music on the box set before, and read about it obsessively in Julian Cope’s Krautrocksampler, but to have it all together in one beautiful package with exhaustive liner notes was irresistible. It had the air of a long-lost hermetic text, a massive, inscrutable and supremely meaningful archive.

Of course, Faust reunited in the ’90s, recording and touring for the next couple of decades, constantly morphing through a confusing string of lineup changes and eventually splitting into two competing groups, both using the same name. I never paid much attention to these records, giving only a few of them a cursory listen. I realize now that this was probably a mistake. Their music, regardless of which combination of original and new members was making it, seems to have been pretty consistently unique. That’s certainly true of jUSt (pronounced “Just Us”), the new album by the version of the band made up of founding members Jean-Hervé Péron and Werner “Zappi” Diermaier.

I’ve read that jUSt is intended as a minimal canvas for other artists to add to, that Faust has “laid down 12 musical foundations, inviting the whole world to use them as a base on which to build their own music.” I’m not entirely convinced that this is true. Or at least I don’t really care if it is. I’m not dying to hear any additions, because they aren’t needed. This record sounds unapologetically and beautifully spare; a collection of loose improvisations, environmental sounds, and machine noises that stand firmly on their own. It mostly stays away from the maximalist, fuzz-drone, tape-spliced chaos of a lot of their earlier work, but it’s still undeniably Faust. It’s still the sound of crazy Europeans shredding any accepted idea of rock music. Granted, they initiated that shredding over 40 years ago, so the sounds on this record aren’t quite as surprising as their earlier masterpieces. But it’s still a challenging and exciting listen. At times it’s like a more playful AMM or a Germanic Sun Ra. It’s got a spontaneous, thrown-together feel, like the songs could fall apart at any moment, which they often do.

The record starts off with “Gerubelt,” a heavy burner with a deep, thudding bass line, tom-heavy drumming, and a screaming flamethrower guitar lead. I can imagine it coming from any of the earlier incarnations of the group, since it’s immediately identifiable as a Faust song. It’s great, but it’s the second song, “80hz,” that I keep coming back to. This is where Peron and Diermaier begin to establish the bizarre simplicity that runs through the album. It’s a sloppy mix of double bass plucking, asynchronous drumming and blasts of organ clusters, teetering between childish and demonic before erupting into a heavy rhythmic drone that just as quickly disintegrates into… bird sounds. It’s the songs that exist in this awkward minimalist realm, the ones that hint that there may actually be some truth to the “musical foundations” conceit, that I find the most rewarding.

“Nahmaschine” (“sewing machine”) begins as little more than sparse drum hits and more bird sounds, before the addition of a droning sewing machine and some sort of bowed zither. “Eeeeeeh…” rides along on a muddy, chugging bass run, simpleton drums, multi-tracked trumpet and, again, birds. “Nur Nous” lets its solitary piano chords ring out seemingly forever, and then breaks into a less than virtuosic free jazz piano and drum duo. On “Der Kaffee Kocht” (“the coffee boiled”) a metronome is accompanied by hand drums, tambourine and what sounds like the rhythmic sawing of a cardboard box. On “Ich Bin ein Pavian,” (“I am a baboon”) one of the duo yells in harsh German over a rattle and drums before the whole thing ends with a closely miked mouth chewing on hard candy.

Most of jUSt has a tossed-off feel, effortless in the sense that they don’t seem to have spent much time making these songs. But there’s magic in this lack of compositional rigor, a deranged giddiness that borders on ecstatic. It’s the music of holy fools. It doesn’t work 100 percent of the time, and it especially doesn’t work with every listen. There are times when I don’t want to hear someone saw a box, But there are also times when it’s the only sound I want. It’s an archetypal Faust record: a confounding clatter that repels and attracts in equal measure, that forces the mind to find comfort in the unfamiliar, and rewards with bursts of true beauty.

Megafortress is the music of Bill Gillim. His debut album Believer was released on Driftless Recordings in November. He lives in Brooklyn, for now. You can follow him on Twitter here.