Likewise in “Halleluhwah,” which sounds maybe a little too short in its extremely digressive running time of 18:33. Tago Mago is definitely strange and challenging in places, but so was all of krautrock.


Next steps: Up there with Can was Faust, which helped broadcast the idea of krautrock to the wider world by way of an early label deal with Polydor Records. The group’s self-titled first album, from 1971, wouldn’t qualify as anybody’s idea of a flush commercial investment. As a disorientingly playful collage of psychedelic rock and bad-dream aural drama, however, it’s a masterwork among Faust’s many others. (See also: The Faust Tapes, So Far.)

Crucial to certain kinds of krautrock was the idea of the “motorik” rhythm, which the band Neu! nailed on its self-titled debut from 1972. After getting over the shock of just how much it sounds like what Stereolab pioneered decades later, Neu! offers a lot to hear in the driving groove of “Hallogallo,” which finds a steady, simple beat and sticks to it—for 10 minutes and counting.

Where not to start: Kraftwerk is an elephant in the room when talk turns to krautrock, but the Kraftwerk of “We Are The Robots” popular lore was a long way from the early Kraftwerk that slots more instructively into krautrock proper. The formative early material, available on bootlegs with colored street-cone covers, dates back to 1970, and sounds a lot more rustle-y and weird. The locked-groove synth funk of later Kraftwerk is part of the krautrock story to be sure (especially the parts that portend much of hip-hop and techno), but it’s better to arrive at that stiffness than to start with it—to better understand how the very idea of “stiffness” was a red herring in the end.