Popul Vuh

Popul Vuh - Vol. 2 - Acoustic and Ambient Spheres is a box set collecting vinyl copies of four early albums from the influential German prog/ambient collective Popul Vuh. Founded and fronted by the late Florian Fricke, Popul Vuh is an acknowledged influence on bands like The Orb and their music has been compared to that of bands like Tangerine Dream and CAN. Seemingly underappreciated in the U.S., Popul Vuh put out more than 20 albums (not counting compilations) and this set offers fans a chance to do a little catching up with the band's phenomenal body of music. All LPs are pressed on heavy duty vinyl and housed in jackets that reproduce the original artwork, all packaged in an attractive and sturdy slip case. Each title also has a bonus track not found on the original release and inserts like a poster and/or a promotional photo.

Taken in the order of their original release, the first album included here is 1973's Seligpreisung where, like the album title, all song titles are in German, and many are lengthy. Full song titles are mostly abbreviated on the disc label, using an ellipsis to indicate that there's more to the title, so "Selig Sind, Die Da Hungern, Selig Sind, Die Da Dursten Nach Gerechtigkeir Ja, Sie Sollen Satt Werden" becomes simply "Selig Sind, Die Da Hungern..." The cut features a few understated vocals from Popul Vuh main man Florian Fricke, a rarity since he normally does not sing. The cut is really a showcase though for guitarist Daniel Fichelscher who plays fluid and luxuriant psychedelic-leaning leads throughout most of the six-minute track. The rest of the album alternates between more psychedelia and gothic prog rock, occasionally with folk sounds working their way into the mix. To that extent, the band on this album could easily be called the German Grateful Dead. There are classical influences here too, especially noticeable with bonus track "Be in Love." The inserts for this album are two promotional photos.

Next up is 1977's Coeur de Verre, the original soundtrack to the Werner Herzog film of the same name. Translating to mean heart of glass, the film is about how a master glass artisan dies without passing on his skills, leaving the employees of his factory and others literally going crazy trying to carry on. That's all of no never mind to the listener since the album is entirely instrumental, and the band shows their versatility with an A-side that moves from another Grateful Dead-like jam to an intriguing Indian groove with sitar, and a B-side that begins with the psychedelic Middle Eastern flourishes of "Huter der Schwelle," (all titles except the bonus track are in German) a pastoral interlude called "Singet, denn der Gesang Vertreibt die Wolfen" and bonus track "Earth View," an ambient piece from the era but not from the film. The album's insert is a small poster.

1983's Agape - Agape (Love-Love) begins with "Hand in Hand," a cut with chanted vocals that evokes a gothic church service before moving into the psychedelic instrumental "They Danced, They Laughed, As of Old" with its swirling melody, and followed by experimental cut "Love, Life, Death." "The Christ is Near" is more chanting, clarified by its title as to what it is about, but it is more medieval eeriness than it is recognizable reverence. That's just part of the A-Side and the B-side is equally diverse, beginning with the psychedelic noodling "Behold, the Drover Summons." There's also a hippie-ish chant that's heavy on rhythm and with Indian overtones, the quiet and extended ambient cut "Why Do I Still Sleep" and bonus cut "Circledance," a prog instrumental that sounds a bit like Yes. The insert for this album is a glossy photo of Florian Fricke.

The fourth disc in this box set is another soundtrack to a Herzog film, 1987's Cobra Verde. As seems to be the Popul Vuh tradition, the album begins with a chanted number. Unlike many of the band's chantings though, "Der Tod des Cobra Verde" has an uplifting feel to it rather than a dark overtone. Also among the A-side cuts are the ambient pieces "Nachts: Schnee," "Der Marktplatz" and "Eine Andere Welt." Another ambient piece, "Grab der Mutter," closes the side and includes more chant singing at its end. Unlike the bonuses on the other three albums that are appended at the end of the work, the bonus cut here, "Om Mani Padme Hum," opens the B-side. While named after the classic Buddhist chant, the mantra is not uttered on this version of the cut, nor is it on the album's closer, a "piano" version of the song. The album's longest cut (nine and a half minutes) lies between; "Hab' Mut, bis dass die Nacht mit Ruh' und Stille Kommt" is another ambient piece with flavorings of India. The bonus insert is a small poster for the film with a great portrayal of star Klaus Kinski.

Also included in this box set is a booklet with notes on each of the four albums, a Popul Vuh discography and commentary from Werner Herzog.

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