Can

TrackAlbum
Oh YeahTago Mago
MillionenspielThe Lost Tapes
Future DaysFuture Days
UphillDelay 1968
Mother SkySoundtracks
Dizzy DizzySoon Over Babaluma
Outside My DoorMonster Movie
I'm So GreenEge Bamyasi
Vernal EquinoxLanded
HalleluhwahTago Mago

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Contributor: Simon Sadler

Krautrock, eh. Now seemingly a byword for anything with a vaguely mamma-dadda beat matched to bleepy electronics or rangy guitar playing, it’s easy to forget what a broad church worshipped under that large dome, from the spacey organica of Tangerine Dream to the bonkers guitar frottage of Guru Guru. One of the most popular and influential bands to emerge from Germany in this period was Can.

Can photo

Can (l to r): Irmin Schmidt, Holger Czukay, Michael Karoli, Jaki Liebezeit, Damo Suzuki

Heavily influenced by both the Velvet Underground, who bassist Holger Czukay discovered on a trip to New York in 1966, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, under whom both Czukay and keyboardist Irmin Schmidt studied, the band’s early output was suitably avant-garde. Their compositional modus operandi was to jam for hours on end, recording everything and afterwards Schmidt would take the editor’s knife to it to fashion the best bits into cohesive tunes. Often still very long tunes – it was not unusual for one side of an album to comprise no more than one or two tracks. The selections I’ve made here come from the period up to around 1976, beyond which I haven’t yet explored but is generally accepted to be when they were past their best anyway.

With the American sculptor Malcolm Mooney adding his somewhat erratic, aggressively repetitive vocal stylings to the mix, they struggled to get their early recordings released. Their first recorded album didn’t see the light of day until 1981 as Delay 1968, from which a typically propulsive cut, Uphill is included here. In a bid to produce something more commercial they cut the Monster Movie album, which is no less experimental, including as it does the side-spanning Yoo Doo Right culled from a six-hour jam. I’ve picked the more accessible, and rather shorter Outside My Door as a suitable taster.

The increasingly unstable Mooney left after seemingly suffering a nervous breakdown, and the band discovered the itinerant Japanese busker Kenji ‘Damo’ Suzuki as replacement. A more laid back, almost ethereal vocalist, his introduction would lead the band in a less abrasive, though at times more wilfully experimental direction. The first fruits of this new line-up were to be found on the stop-gap Soundtracks album, featuring tracks the band had recorded for various films (including a few Mooney-fronted numbers). A somewhat piecemeal offering, it was nevertheless redeemed by the inclusion of one of the band’s finest moments, the 14-minute wigout Mother Sky, featuring some of guitarist Michael Karoli’s most blistering chops.

The second album proper, Tago Mago, is perhaps the band’s defining statement. A sprawling double album featuring but seven tracks, it encompassed everything from the nascent motorik drive of Oh Yeah to the weirdly meditative Aumgn and the frankly unhinged Peking O. I’ve included Oh Yeah as it was my introduction to the band, plus the lengthy and pulsating Halleluhwah. Also from the same period, Millionenspiel is one of many gems unearthed when Schmidt discovered long-forgotten recordings which were released a few years ago as The Lost Tapes box set.

Their next album, Ege Bamyasi, was perhaps a more commercial affair, if only by dint of having relatively few lengthy tracks, and a number of succinct, almost poppy tunes. In fact they scored a hit single with Spoon from this album. I’ve elected to go with I’m So Green as a fine example of Jaki Liebezeit’s skill and dexterity on the drumkit, here fashioning an uber-funk groove that was a clear influence on the Stone Roses’ Fools Gold.

Suzuki’s swansong with the band was Future Days, which saw the band move into more ambient territory with long instrumental phases, Suzuki being relegated to something of a bit part actor. Nevertheless, the lusher tones of this record, exemplified by the title track propelled by Karoli’s guitar harmonics, make for some pretty blissed-out listening.

Following Damo’s departure the band continued in a more instrumental direction, electing to handle vocals among the remaining members rather than hiring a new frontman. Soon Over Babaluma pretty much picks up where Future Days left off, with Dizzy Dizzy being a fairly typical example, its insistent vocals finding echoes in the likes of Clinic and Suuns many years later.

From there onward things took a different turn, with the Landed album veering more towards glam-rock than anything, but still serving up an old-school Can classic in the form of Vernal Equinox (check out the OGWT clip above of the band performing this one). From this point on Can appear to have more or less disintegrated, losing direction somewhat (though scoring a hit with the disco-inflected I Want More) and producing increasingly less satisfying records.

Various members of the band continue to record and perform. Czukay and Liebezeit often collaborate (as on the recent Cyclopean EP) and Damo will perform scratch gigs with any band willing to get up on stage with him (of which there are understandably many). And thanks to the renewed interest in all things German, their back catalogue is in good shape (and being progressively re-released on vinyl).

These selections scratch at the surface of Can’s body of work, hopefully they will encourage you to delve deeper.

 

Jaki Liebezeit (1938–2017)

 

The Official Can Website

Finding The Lost Can Tapes (Sound On Sound)

Irmin Schmidt official website

Holger Czukay official website

Malcolm Mooney official website

David C Johnson bio + compositions

Damo Suzuki official website

Michael Karoli (1948-2001)

Jaki Liebezeit discography

Can biography (iTunes)

Simon Sadler is a lifelong music fan and unreconstructed vinyl junkie. Occasionally (i.e. with Stone Roses album regularity) he writes at his own blog here.

TopperPost #478

1 Comment

  1. Keith Shackleton
    Sep 29, 2015

    Most excellent summary. I’m definitely a Damo fan, so those earlier albums I tend not to play so much. Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi are the ones, for me .. I’d find it hard to choose sample tracks from them, there’s so much great stuff going on. How could anyone dislike a band with a drummer called Mr. Love Time?

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