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Review: The Pancakes – ‘Mokele Goes to Town’ (released November 14, 2019)

Hailing from Neuhausen, Germany, The Pancakes have been playing and recording their own brand of psychedelic space/surf rock since 1995. I first heard them when I reviewed their Space Cow album back in 2006. Their current line-up consists of founding members Rainer Neeff (guitar, lead and backing vocals) and Daniela Neeff (bass, lead and backing vocals) with new drummer Tristan Reiling, who joined the fold in 2019. Mokele Goes to Town is their latest release, an epic double album of raw, energetic psych and space rock that twists and turns through multiple subgenres; a storm of sound and fury that nonetheless is punctuated with some moments of crystalline serenity and acid dripping mellowness too. I’m sorry I missed this one when it came out near the end of last year because it would almost certainly have been in the Psychedelic Waves Top 30 albums of 2019.

This noisy and expansive, tripped out adventure sounds like early Pink Floyd running headlong into Sonic Youth somewhere deep in the Black Forest of Germany, and it is truly mind-blowing. Some of the highlights for me: the opening cut Spider Spider, an unabashed fuzzy slab of pure 60’s garage rock, a catchy number that is tailor made, it would seem, for Halloween parties; I Can’t See Any Rainbows, a throbbing Krautrockish number featuring Rainer on lead vocals this time out (most of the lead vocals on the album come from Daniela), with a great descending chord progression as a hook, with all sorts of other freaky stuff going on in it too, ferocious feedback and wah-wah sludge slathered all over the place; UFO, the most outright surf rock on the album, but a song that really shows off Pancake’s talent for writing strong and memorable songs; Portus, a dreamy instrumental cut with a nice big post-rock vibe to it that I really enjoyed, featuring some lovely, soaring wordless vocals by Daniela; and Dark Nights in the City, oozing with atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re right there, walking down a dark avenue, across a bridge lit only by streetlamps as the cars slip by you in the night, with a touch of paranoia, as if someone might be following you. It has some nice wah-wah guitar leads too. I can’t forget Duggyman’s Christmas either, presumably a sequel to Volcanic Frog Island’s Duggyman. It’s the longest track on the album clocking in at over 14 ½ minutes, a surprisingly mellow cut, with delicious psychedelic meanderings that groove along to a steady beat before turning halfway through into a soupy haze of sonic weirdness. Duggyman apparently had a very trippy Christmas! I also really liked the brief album closer, Falkon on Frozen Hill, a dark and dreamy ambient piece featuring both music and field recordings.

And yet, this isn’t actually the end! There are four bonus tracks, three of which are on the LP version and one of which is on the CD version of the album. All four are included with the digital download. Amongst them my favourites were Kosmos, originally from their 2001 album Ugga Dtschagga, a true spacerocker built on waves of distorted guitar with Daniela’s haunting vocals echoing through it; and the brilliant epic Greenwood Desert, another song that’s been around for a while (there is a version of it on the Pancakes live LP Aquanaut, which was recorded back in 2006 and it originally appeared in a drastically shorter form way back on their long out of print 1998 debut LP Brainshaker). It’s nice to get an updated studio treatment for it. This has the punch and energy of the live version from Aquanaut but ups the ante on production values. Don’t worry though, the edges have definitely not been polished off. It still has all the grit, freaky effects and bristling, buzzing feedback we would expect from The Pancakes.

If you like your psych visceral, edgy and endlessly creative (and who doesn’t?), Mokele Goes to Town is another great addition to The Pancakes catalogue; a terrific listen whether you’re a long-time fan or just hearing of them now.

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