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Holger Czukay: On The Way To The Peak Of Normal

Album Review

A neglected classic from the Can man re-released.

Holger Czukay, now 75, worked in a Danzig radio repair shop when he was a teenager, thus piquing his interest in aural experimentation and juxtaposition. As co-founder of Can, his influence is well documented, but in the late 70s he felt marginalised by that peripatetic outfit and embarked on a solo... well, ‘career’ might be the wrong word. He continued his journey into unmapped territories of sound. In the 80s he collaborated with everyone from David Sylvian to Jah Wobble, all the while making maverick music of his own.

1981’s On The Way To The Peak Of Normal was his third album, or arguably EP (there has always been some confusion as to the track-listing, partly because of a simultaneous collaborative EP with Conny Plank as Les Vampyrettes). This reissue runs to four tracks and just under half an hour, yet it contains more ideas, innovation and surprises than offerings thrice that length. Krautrock? Psychedelia? World music? Post-punk? As ever, Czukay didn’t believe in such boxes and dreamed outside them, mixing and matching with glee. 

With Plank on synths and violin, the record is a mostly instrumental foray (though with snatches of sampled voices and other eerie mutterings) into funky grooves, wildly incongruous solos which shouldn’t work but do, and trance states. As producer, Czukay dabbles in everything from French horns to congas. You might read this and think it sounds like an indulgent, waffling mess. It isn’t. Superbly alive, sharp and engaging, it brilliantly walks the line between far-out and focused. 

Suspense drips through the opening rhythms and licks of the title track, with wilfully odd noises peeping in from nooks and crannies. This is one part early Roxy Music, one part The Clangers, yet wholly the unique Czukay. Witches’ Multiplication Table is trippy acid-dub with lacings of occultism and numerology. Unnerving but riveting. 

A whiff of sensuality and danger arrives with the quivering genius that is Ode To Perfume and its sibling coda Fragrance. The former drifts through both high drama and dreaminess as Czukay shows there’s nothing you can’t attempt over a seemingly loping, laid-back groove. Progressive pulsations roam from romantic balladry to warped, twangy guitar to treated tussles of brass. It’s one of the high spots of his entire oeuvre, noir and niggly yet achieved with a nonchalant minimum of fuss. Fragrance follows it with a slinky sigh. 

Nothing is normal about Holger Czukay’s work. If you’ve yet to dive into his music outside Can, this peak will more than pique your interest.

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