ULAN BATOR are one of the great rock-ist bands, perhaps the greatest rock-ist band, working out of France in this day and age. With his tongue planted somewhere near his cheek Michael Gira stated that UB are “One of the best French bands in the last 300 years…”, and he would know, as he produced their most well known record for his pretty amazing YOUNG GOD record label. That record from 2000, EGO:ECHO, brought myself, and in general a larger American audience to this group of rock dissidents who mine the tunnels and caverns of krautrock, industrial, and post-punk in creating their thunderous and beautifully lurching sound.
Started in the mid-90s by Amaury Cambuzat and Olivier Manchion, the group has featured numerous line-up changes. The founding duo remained intact through 2001, when Manchion left the group. The two would reconnect as members of one of the greatest experimental rock groups of all-time, FAUST. To play in FAUST must have been a joy for these two men who no doubt have deeply digested much of that incredible German band’s output (for the FAUST uninitiated try out FAUST and FAUST SO FAR for starters). Despite that newly found union the two have never reunited under the ULAN BATOR banner.
EN FRANCE/ EN TRANSE came out in 2013 via Cambuzat’s own ACID COBRA, and while the original founding unit remains separated, the sonic results here are stunning. Rarely if ever do I come across bands who are working from the very loose template of krautrock that allow the freedom inherent in that general form to shine through. ULAN BATOR is doing just that however. They don’t sound like any “type” of krautrock, or any particular band associated with that barely meaningful term. They sound like an experimental rock group, one with a knack for creating strange grooves, and entrancing through a rough hewn repetition that will make quick fans of the sad lot among us who requires medical marijuana for healing. The spirit of experimentalism is alive within this group which draws from many pools of inspiration, the approach of early industrial music being of special effectiveness in their capable hands.
“We R You” features a lurching electronic and tribal drum beat, creepily hushed vocals, and a great guitar motif that sits atop a persistent bass rumble. The phrase “We R You” is repeated into infinity as electronics and rhythm section continue along, never stopping, not knowing that there is a beginning or an end. “Ah Ham” follows that song directly on the album, and in the pair you have my two favorite songs off EN FRANCE/EN TRANSE. “Ah Ham” jumps right in a with a more buoyant beat, the song a whirling drum and cymbal basher revolving around a simple intoxicating guitar riff. What makes the song so special though are its calm moments. Lost voices and pretty guitars, and the tinkling half there ideas that somehow meld into the whole of some of the loveliest rock band interludes of recent memory. The spirit of late 60s/early 70s German rock, inclusive of some of the better rock ideas of the intervening 40+ years, is what you get, as a whole, here. And while I wasn’t necessarily looking for it, I found it, and I’m keeping it.