The soon-to-be reissued album Tracks and Traces -- recorded in the mid-1970s by krautrock superstars Harmonia and ambient egghead Brian Eno -- has a checkered history longer than the combined ages of all three Jonas brothers (possibly). But, unlike those tween pop squeaks, this music shows no signs of passing its sell-by date. It sounds fresh enough to have been recorded yesterday, even though it could just as easily have not been recorded or released at all.
The story begins in 1976. Between quietly (very quietly, in fact) inventing ambient music and going on to record the album Low with David Bowie, Brian Eno stopped off to record some sessions with experimental German trio Harmonia. The music was never intended for release, Harmonia broke up immediately afterward, and the master tapes promptly disappeared, presumed lost. Twenty years passed before one of the original band members, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, released an album of music culled from copies of the original four-track tapes. This, in turn, led to all three members of the band getting back together to work on this definitive new version, which has been completely remastered with three additional tracks. And it is a revelation.
Songs range in length from the 89 seconds of "When Shade Was Born" to an epic 16 minutes on "Sometimes In Autumn." Abstract washes of electronica and more formally arranged tracks combine to pull off the unlikely trick of sounding both outdated and futuristic at the same time, like a re-imagined soundtrack for Blade Runner (perhaps Ridley Scott could use it on his next definitive director's cut). "Vamos Campaneros" has the propulsive thump of a steam-powered helicopter and is crying out for a drum and bass deconstruction. "Atmosphere" sounds like dark, Burial-style dubstep with the bass turned off. The vocals on "Luneberg Heath" (the only track featuring any voices) are delivered in the jaded monotone of Underworld's Karl Hyde.
Except, of course, they're not. This album was recorded long before Underworld came into being, before even the original, early-1980s release of Blade Runner. So the truth is more likely to be the opposite, that acts from Vangelis to Burial have been influenced by Harmonia and Eno, either directly or indirectly, as the waves of the music they created rippled from artist to artist over the intervening years. And that's one of the joys of hearing an album out of sequence like this, one that has been made new by a collision of carelessness and happenstance. Thirty years can just disappear and somehow not even matter.
Tracks and Traces Reissue by Harmonia & Eno ’76 is released October 6 on Grönland / High Wire Music.