Can's Soundtracks

Released in 1970, Soundtracks is the second album by Can, one of the greatest Krautrock bands. It is their first record featuring the legendary Japanese vocalist Damo Suzuki, and contains hints of the dark psychedelic funk sound they would explore much further on their next album, the masterpiece Tago Mago.

Soundtracks is exactly what its name suggests: a collection of pieces written for films. Tracks 1 to 3 are from Roland Klick's Deadlock, a psychedelic gangster western about bank robbers fleeing to the Mexican Sierra. The two versions of the title theme are 'sauerkraut western' doomsday marches with wailing guitar and organ and pounding drums, rivalling Ennio Morricone's The Good, The Bad and the Ugly soundtrack for over-the-top drama. The eerie 'Don't turn the light on, leave me alone' is from Leonidas Capitanos's infamous skin flick, Cream.

'Soul Desert' from Roger Fritz's Madchen mit Gewalt, and 'She Brings The Rain' from Thomas Schamoni's Bottom both feature Can's first vocalist Malcolm Mooney, an African-American sculptor. The latter track mentions magic mushrooms, and perhaps he'd had a few too many because Mooney left the band after going completely nuts, Syd Barrett-style. At one gig, he started singing "upstairs, downstairs" over and over, then continued when the band finished playing, and only stopped three hours later to collapse. After a half-year break, the band discovered Damo Suzuki busking on the street and recruited him as the replacement. I think Suzuki is clearly the better singer. Mooney's performance on 'She Brings The Rain' is nice but not freaky enough, while his shrieking on 'Soul Desert' lacks subtlety. Suzuki is perfectly crazy, with a huge range of whispers and wails. His English is pretty terrible, but it doesn't really matter, and actually seems quite appropriate for a weird drug-crazed Japanese/German version of American styles of music.

Vocals is not the only department in which Can's sound changed throughout the recording of Soundtracks. For much of it, as on their first album, the rhythms are strictly motorik, the Velvet Underground-inspired, straight endless German road. The best example here is 'Mother Sky', from Jerry Skolimovsky's Deep End, the story of a disastrous love triangle set in a London public baths. It's Can's own version of the Velvets' Sister Ray, fifteen minutes of motorik madness, always threatening to explode but held back by the hypnotic metronomic beat. However on 'Tango Whiskeyman', after an edgy rigid beginning, there is a sudden burst of syncopated drumming inspired by the then-very-recent rhythm-oriented works of James Brown. From here on, Can would leave their fellow Krautrockers Neu! to be the definitive motorik band, to pursue their own more funky direction.

Track List
1. Deadlock - 3:25
2. Tango Whiskeyman - 4:02
3. Deadlock (title music) - 1:40
4. Don't Turn the Light on, Leave Me Alone - 3:42
5. Soul Desert - 3:46
6. Mother Sky - 14:30
7. She Brings the Rain - 4:04

When you're out and about in a modern warzone, skipping down what passes for a sidewalk and chasing down what passes for an ice cream truck, it is not at all uncommon to see kids with one earbud in, iPod tucked into a purpose-made pouch on the armor, cruising along in an armored vehicle and bobbing back and forth in time with the music. You'd think they were just ditty-bopping until you realize that they're swiveling their eyes and head in line with optimized search patterns, in syncopation with the drums, looking for signs of IEDs or ambush.

I can tell you that the stuff being played as personal war movie soundtracks is jarring, inappropriate, and would never pass muster for a major studio production due to complete disregard for mood, timing, and marketability. Sure, there are the stereotypes who pump up the Metallica or Hatebreed or some other tough-guy music so they can feel like badasses, but people listen to what they like. Uncle Sam's brainwashing may change your taste in food, your tolerance for bedclothes alignment, or even your politics - but people don't change their taste in music.

It's always good for a private musing when the burned out E6 with 4 years left 'til retirement plays some down-with-the-man-anarchy-forever-woo-yeah punk rock, and you realize that his high-and-tight used to be a green mohawk, and that pockmark on his nostril used to be a nose ring. There's one unit here that plays a different Toto song for each day of the week before every trip outside the wire. There's another who plays Beethoven over the intercom in homage to a certain fictional surfer of the Vietnam era. They think it's the height of comedy to talk about the smell of burn pit in the morning, but that's another story entirely.

Put it on random, amigo, and you never know what you're going to get.

I've watched 105s from a gunship vaporize a series of fighting positions with Devo in one ear loud enough to hear over the rotorwash on a pair of 47's. I've watched a working dog tear a suicide bomber's face off with Hank Williams Jr. crooning along. A two-ship of helicopter gunships dropped Hellfires on a bunch of assholes planting IEDs, and I laughed like it was going out of style when a few survivors - "squirters" - went tearing ass away from the splash like they were on fire (because they were) to that Benny Hill song. All it would have taken was a guy in a gorilla suit to make the picture perfect.

They came in with the 30mm autocannons and, in the parlance of the day, "neutralized the enemy" and confirmed that the Hellfire had taken out the IED, too. We surveyed the craters for signs of life while The Cramps sang about bikini girls with machine guns.

Seat 2 said, "No bikini girls here, that's for goddamned sure."

Doubtless not a few readers are disgusted and indignant over anything having to do with war, but let's examine the situation. It'd all be perfectly acceptable, even "artistic", "gritty", and "harrowing" if these were scenes from a movie set to a carefully chosen score. Reach into the grab bag of iconic war movies from the last ten years and think about the horrific and deeply personal violence depicted there, and imagine how you'd perceive it having been set with something from a 19 year old's iPod instead of whatever award-winner made the final cut.

Honestly, though, I prefer the incongruity. One of these days that little bit of surreality might be all it takes to remind me that this isn't the way I should be living my life.

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