Sunday, March 28, 2010

Can Tago Mago 1971

I recently got asked to provide a Can intro to a friend and it sent me back to their records. I came very late to Can, only discovering them in the last 10 years. Their music isn't really the type of music I'm drawn to, but their remarkable skill and extreme strangeness, especially considering that they were making this music in 1971, is compelling.

Can began with Monster Movie in 1969 and followed with Soundtracks in 1970. In 1971 Tago Mago, a two-record set, was released. I haven't heard all of their records, but of the five or six I've heard, Tago Mago is the pinnacle of their work. Ege Bamyasi followed in 1972 and was another strong work. 1974's Future Days saw Can practically invent electronic ambient music, and later records such as Soon Over Babaluma 1975 and Saw Delight 1977 always contained several good songs.

Tago Mago is about as weird as anything called rock music gets. Paperhouse rocks a deep grove, sounding like Funkadelic crossed with Kraftwerk. (Just reading that sentence, I'm thinking of someone reading this and wondering what on earth could sound like those two bands jammed together.) Mushroom is another trance groove, broken up by screaming choruses. Oh Yeah starts with a driving rock beat and morphs into a killer break that puts Michael Karoli's guitar skills on display for all to see. On the eighteen-minute Halleluhwah, the entire band turns the twisted drum groove into a hypnotic freakout of epic proportions. Halleluhwah is a great song, pushing the deep groove aesthetic of James Brown to strange new places. Germany isn't normally known for it's funk, but the way these guys mine a groove...

Aumgn is a seventeen-minute strangeness without the groove of Halleluhwah, and it's harder to cozy up to, but if you've penetrated Zappa or Beefheart, you might be ready for it. Peking O is also a bit strange and overbearing, with more than a bit of noise, and it's the hardest thing to listen to here. The record ends with Bring Me Coffee Or Tea, a welcome return to something like melody, even if it is a spacey one.

The first half- Paperhouse through Halleluhwah- is quite near perfection. The second half is a little too close to cacophony, but overall it's quite amazing. The band has very talented guitar and keyboard players in Michael Karoli and Irmin Schmidt. The rhythm section of Holger Czukay, bass, and especially Jaki Liebezeit, drums, is stellar. When Liebezeit and Czukay lock into a groove, look out. That's what makes Halleluhwah, Paperhouse and Oh Yeah such a gas. I haven't yet mentioned vocalist Damo Suzuki, who does sometimes use words you can distinguish, and sometimes sounds as though he's speaking in tongues, but rarely seems to make any sense. And yet you can barely imagine the band without this particular "singer".

Strange music for sure, but you'll never hear anything quite like it, at least not anything this good.

1 comment:

  1. Spoon got their name form a Can Album. Just sayin'...

    The name Spoon was chosen to honor the 1970s German avant-garde band Can, whose hit song "Spoon" was the theme song to the movie Das Messer.