THE LOST TAPES
The canon of great Can records is a mere five albums long (one a double), a tiny four hours of music. Although it’s been topped up with Delay 1968 (a set of outtakes) and a double live CD, this three CD set hugely increases the tiny output of this hugely influential band.
Put simply, avant-garde music would be different without Can. The whole shape of post-punk, for example. Can influenced by not being a rock band. For one thing, they were all soloists, no-one leading, all following a vibe. For another, they were not a rock band, owing as much to jazz. For a third thing, Can used the technique of Ted Macero with Miles Davis – they ran the tapes, jammed, then edited the results down into a track. It made for some fabulously concentrated yet loose moments. It also meant they used a LOT of tape. They had to record over it after keeping the best and the resulting piles of “keepers” would be tucked away to be harvested for albums. Some were more tucked away than others but, in his honest way, Irmin Schmidt says, “Obviously the tapes weren’t really lost, but were left in the cupboards of the studio archives for so long everybody just forgot about them. Everybody except Hildegard” (Irmin’s wife), “who watches over Can and its work like the dragon over the gold of the Nibelungen and doesn't allow forgetting.”
These tracks, it must be stressed, are the match for anything they released at the time and focus on 1968 – 1977, concentrating on the 68 – 74 nexus of creativity, when tracks like Graublau could cycle up into a quarter hour of stratospheric space-rock without losing a light playfulness. Edited into shape from the fifty hours found then agreed on by keyboardist Irmin Schmidt and Mute-head Daniel Miller, the resulting music is like four or five nex albums from Can and will provide me with years of jerky feet and sonic mind-twists. Opening with the cop-show-theme sounding sax-decorated Millionspeil, the set deliberately confuses you with something pretty out of character. But then it was all largely unpredictable except that every album would have a great groove somewhere and this has lots. Take, for example, the next track, Waiting For The Streetcar. Every second of this is classic Can, as good as anything they released back in the day. Jaki Leibzeit locks in perfectly with Holger Czukay’s bass to make an unstoppable groove, Karoli’s guitar needles and digs, Malcolm Mooney does what he does. Mooney utterly unnerves by singing the title over and over and over and over again till it becomes a mantra, till it sounds deranged, till it becomes percussion. Sadly Mooney was to decide exercises like this were driving him round the twist and left for the States, leaving most of two discs to the equally but differently strange Damo Suzuki. The third track is another face to the band. Playing with acoustics, the band improvise around the noises of the studio, building from nothing and following each other in an exploration of pure sound. The later Blind Mirror Surf is a parallel improvisation in a disused ballroom. Deep concentration was helped by the knowledge that there was to be little or no overdubbing, thanks to the two track Revox tape recorders. Still, those of us who love that motorik groove start nodding head and feet to Mooney’s deadly Doris next, where he gets scary again, repeating the title over while the beat rises and relaxes. There are seven Mooney pieces here and it is a huge treat. Not that Damo’s aren’t, it’s just that we still have the wonderful spectacle of Damo still touring with local pick-up improv bands. Damo’s first track here, Bubble Rap, is the typical edge-of-comprehensibility rhythmic rant, fronting a great drum and bass pattern and fuzzed up guitar. Other moments, like the very early Oscura Primavera, can be very sweet, like Kraftwerk’s Morgenspaziergang.
And there are still two more CDs – you can see why people are excited about this release. Some studio tracks are related to official releases, for example On The Way To Mother Sky. Dead Pigeon Suite is clearly from the same source as Vitamin C. Messer, Scissors, Fork and Light keeps skirting round Spoon without ever becoming it. But the set is far from an alternative takes geek-fest – nearly everything here is new and cut from fresh cloth. It astonishes me that such good stuff could have sat unused for so long. It delights me that we get it now. There are some live tracks too, better chosen than the live album, showing how a studio track was only the jumping off point for a live journey. One live snippet, in particular, is interesting, Godzilla Fragment is a chunk of one of their famous live meltdowns where they would go nuclear on the audience.
If you don’t know Can, you should. If you do, you need this. Simple as that.