Cluster, fittingly, is the name of a band around which the Krautrock family tree starts to look more like a tumbleweed. Founded in 1969 as Kluster by Dieter Moebius (Amon Guru), Hans-Joachim Roedelius (Aquarello), and Conrad Schnitzler (Tangerine Dream), the band released three albums, whereupon Schnitzler left. The remaining duo enlisted new collaborator Conny Plank (Guru Guru, producer of too many crucial Krautrock and New Wave albums to even start listing them, insulter of Bono) and changed its name by one letter, to Cluster.
Plank ended his tenure with Cluster in 1975, and Moebius and Roedelius joined with Michael Rother (NEU!, Kraftwerk) to form the group Harmonia. That band was freakin’ incredible—Michael Rother doesn’t do a whole lot wrong, really—and their third album, recorded in late 1976, was a collaboration with their very big fan Brian Eno. (That album, Tracks and Traces wouldn’t see release until 1997, credited to Harmonia ’76, and was reissued in the late oughts under the band name Harmonia and Eno ’76.) Upon its completion, Rother went solo, and Moebius and Roedelius reverted back to the name Cluster, and soon made another album with Eno, under the name Cluster & Eno.
Seriously, with all these back-and-forth hair splitting name changes, I don’t know how the hell even a devoted maven like Julian Cope can keep all this shit straight. There was a a really good Cluster album shoehorned in between Harmonia albums, too, I may as well add.
Anyway, that eponymous Cluster and Eno album is, I dare say, some of the loveliest music Krautrock produced. Unsurprisingly, given the band’s personnel history, it contains echoes of Tangerine Dream and NEU!, but it conspicuously lacks that defining NEU! element, the “motorik” drumbeat. In fact, the album has almost no overt beats at all. Eno’s innovations in ambient electronics were a fine match for Cluster’s love of repetition and intertwining looped passages. The songs sail past you almost frictionlessly, unencumbered by any needless ballast.
The ONE SONG on the album with any kind of percussive element
Cluster collaborated with Eno again, the following year, under the band name (again with that) Eno Moebius Roedelius. That album, After the Heat, is also quite fine, but not up to the heights of the Cluster and Eno LP (IMO, YMMV, blah blah blah). Somewhat more satisfying was “By This River,” Cluster’s contribution to Eno’s Before and After Science.