Thursday, 21 June 2012

Can - The Lost Tapes

I don't usually write about bigger, more well known releases here for a number of reasons; Firstly, there are plenty of other online resources which will cover them. First and foremost, I write about what I love and what I'm playing at any given time. I'm not here for the purpose of self-promotion or to try and earn a living, It's enough for me to recommend interesting releases to other like-minded readers based upon my own eclectic listening habits.

Secondly, major releases generally don't do anything for me as they're usually bland, homogenised constructs designed primarily to generate wealth for the multi-national labels and creatively bankrupt 'artists' involved. Can however are a different matter entirely.

It's no secret that, since discovering this band some thirty years ago I have a been a huge fan. I have spent much of my formative record collecting years hunting down everything bearing the band's name amongst mouldering piles of vinyl in dusty shops and at record fairs up and down the UK. I love Can, they provided the soundtrack to a certain, influential part of my teenage years. And so, when Mute records announced some time again that they were preparing this box set from a cache of recently recovered tapes, I naturally became incredibly excited at the prospect of owning so much unheard material.

Can were formed in Cologne, Germany during 1968 by keyboard player Irmin Schmidt and bassist Holger Czukay who were both former students of the legendary Avant Garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. The line-up was completed by free jazz drummer Jaki Liebzeit and a nineteen year old pupil of Czukay's, Michael Karoli. Vocals were originally handled by American sculptor Malcolm Mooney who left shortly afterwards due to psychiatric problems and was replaced by Japanese street busker Damo Suzuki. Their best known albums are from the Damo Suzuki period (Ege Bamyasi, Tago Mago and Future Days), but their two earliest releases (Monster Movie and Soundtracks) are essential listening too. The band continued putting out albums after the departure of Suzuki until finally calling it a day in 1978. 

I've spent almost every waking hour listening to these thirty tracks since Monday morning, hence the lack of site activity over the past few days. Here are some of my initial thoughts;

Disc one starts in fine style with 'Millionspeil' which was originally penned for a German TV movie in 1970. It pits a plunging, cyclical bassline, great slashes of guitar and Liebezeit's hypnotic drumming against a backdrop of pulsating amp hum. Next up comes one of the highlights of the first disc, 'Waiting for the Streetcar' featuring the unhinged, fractured vocals of Malcolm Mooney. The drums on this one are just incredible, loose and funky but also incredibly rigid in structure. Mooney repeats the title over and over as Karoli throws solos everywhere with unfettered glee. Mooney also lends his stuttering voice to 'Deadly Doris' - a tightly wound blast of bass and drum goodness. Damo Suzuki first appears on disc one during 'Bubble Rap', a nine and a half minute exercise in the kind of tight, no nonsense improvisation that Can excelled at. Another notable mention is 'Graublau', an astonishing seventeen minute instrumental which manages to include every single facet of the Can sound except vocals. It also features some of Holger Czukay's early experiments with shortwave radios and tape manipulation.

Disc two contains a further four tracks featuring Malcolm Mooney, the best of which is 'Midnight Sky' and is frankly as good as anything Can have ever recorded. It's a raw, funky jam in the same vein as 'Outside My Door' from 1969's Monster Movie album with Mooney yelping "everything's gotta be alright" and "no money in my pocket but I'm living alright", his voice becoming increasingly deranged as the track goes on. Another highlight is the Suzuki-fronted 'Dead Pigeon Suite' which is constructed from soundtrack elements taken from another German TV movie called Tote Taube In Der Beethovenstrasse. What's interesting about this track is that it's essentially a looser, freer and longer blueprint version of 'Vitamin C' which appeared on the album Ege Bamyasi in 1972. When Suzuki finally appears after a six minute intro, he does so with a series of crazy yelps and whispers. Liebzeit once again sounds utterly focussed and Motorik creating a tight mesh of drums and percussion.

Disc Three presents several live tracks including 'Mushroom', 'One More Saturday Night' and the rather bonkers noise 'n' blues of 'Networks of Foam'. My personal favourite here is 'Messer Scissors Fork and Light' which is an eight minute jam utilising portions of another soundtrack piece incorporating sonic elements which would be further refined to become Ege Bamyasi's 'Spoon'. Washes of electronic ambience and Damo Suzuki's cooing vocals are again underpinned by a brilliant Liebzeit performance, the track dissolving into a spooked, tribal shakedown.

There are also a number of sound collages included across the three discs, something which Can used to best effect on Tago Mago which was originally released in 1971. The band always had a wilfully experimental edge and would often use such concoctions as bridging pieces, segues or even drop them into tracks when the listener least expected it.

It would be impossible to do this set justice in a few paragraphs due to it's three and a quarter hour running time, but also because of the strength of the material presented. A three disc box set of unreleased tracks, early jams, live performances and a few sonic experiments would, in the hands of a lesser band, be stultifyingly dull. But this is Can we're talking about here, one of the most influential bands of the last four decades and counting. What's most astonishing is that these tracks still have such a keen edge. They sound daring, fresh and above all - relevant.

I can't recommend this release highly enough. If you've already heard of Can then, chances are you'll have this in your collection already. If not, you owe it to yourself to check this band out as soon as possible. If you like your music original, exploratory, experimental or edgy then no matter what you usually listen to, Can may well be able to open up a whole new world of possibilities to you.

The Lost Tapes is available via Mute records as a three CD set in a limited edition numbered 10" square tape box with a twenty eight page booklet and also as a digital download.

This piece is dedicated to the memory of Michael Karoli who died on 17th November 2001.

No comments:

Post a Comment