An Album By Can
Recorded at Inner Space Studio, 1972
“They were always recognisable, but never predictable, they were cleverly disguised, but totally connected" Brian Eno, enthusing about Can in a typically silly, stylised tribute short, these couplets go on and on.(1)
Drums: Jaki Liebezeit, Guitar: Michael Karoli, Bass: Holger Czukay, , Keyboards: Irmin Schmidt, Vocals: Damo Suzuki.
Everyone fucks differently, obviously there is no single way. Horizontal dancing is a craft shared, typically taught in a binary fashion, according to taste. Of the suitable soundtracks, funk and soul have cornered much of the popular market, and for these genres Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On set the template. After Marvin, sex music is seduction music. This is breaths from an imagined partner against a backdrop of lazy beats. Sex-pest Marvin's (The man who sung "I aint gonna worry, and I aint gonna push" whilst singing his own sexual praises for thirty-one and a half consecutive minutes? Dirty stalker.(2)) silky vocal style comes as close to parody as a seduction record ever could. He only just manages to stay on the right side, but to perfection. Say what you will about Marvin and the most gorgeously lascivious guitar intros of the seventies, this record loses its edge at the moment of penetration... Marvin is all about the yearning, and good sex is all about the doing.
Music is the only artform that can be appreciated during, and improve, the act itself. But for my taste, beyond a few Curtis Mayfield albums, PE's Nation Of Millions (I know, not the intent, but the effect) and that Morphine record; popular music has to hand the crown over to jazz and electronica for music to grind hips to... Little in pop has the lazy, fluid sensibility needed to maintain the rhythms for extended sessions of bitten lips and sweat on the sheets. But then there was Can.
Yes, I feel everything,
I’m so green, I’m so green,
“Yes, I feel everything” you say,
Yes, I feel as you say.
Track 6: I'm So Green
Can, a West German Krautrock band, formed in Koln in 1968 from members already with considerable musical experience. Czukay and Schmidt were accomplished classical musicians who had trained for several years under avant garde master Karlheinz Stockhausen, Liebezeit was a free jazz drummer of standing, and Karoli was a cellist and violinist with a growing reputation in jazz circles. By the time of Ege Bamyasi, Can had already changed vocalist once and had released three albums. The latter of these, the double LP Tago Mago, was a critically acclaimed master-work. Despite some outstanding cuts (Halleluwah is jaw dropping), Tago Mago never broke through. The Can sound consisted of driving, syncopated drums at the front, closely supported by wandering, liquid basslines. Weaving around these elements are languid vocals, guitars and keyboard probing for prominence.
Some musical innovations stand up and shout their creativity in your face, no one could mistake Stevie Wonder's Superstition (to stay in the early '70's) for an old idea. But Can were all about the arrangements and grooves and their formative role in Krautrock (which would later be taken forward by the much more formalised and European sounding Kraftwerk) doesn't have any obvious technical features. They made innovative use of tape editing, using much the same technology that Miles Davis used for Bitches Brew, and they made drums patterns of unheralded complexity. But these aren't aural innovations of the new sound variety, and for a few years they were overlooked. Can's approach is all about soundscapes, tone and rhythm. By the time of Ege Bamyasi Can had dropped the longer psychedelic jams (it only contains one track beyond ten minutes, as opposed to three above fifteen on Tago Mago), and stripped the sound down to something that resembled songs. Labelled with the Turkish name for Okra, and with a cover of a can of said vegetable, the album dropped in between '71's Tago Mago, and '73's Future Days.
- Sing Swan Song
- One More Night
- Vitamin C
- I'm So Green
Ege Bamyasi is the most liquid soundscape I've ever heard. From the first drumbeat of Pinch Can are all about the grooves, but showing more forward energy than they ever did on Tago Mago. Too syncopated for dancing (where, exactly, are you supposed to throw your feet around when you can't spot the on-beat?) this intensely rhythmic and beat-driven music is open-ended, as appropriate to driving down a long straight motorway after dark as it is a soundtrack to inebriation (and Can works with all substances). But beyond this, what Ege Bamyasi really is all about is fucking.
This music isn't for new lovers, getting to know each other's skin for the first time. Nor is this music for comfortably making love with an established partner to, there is little tenderness here. Ege Bamyasi is music for the unending dusk of orgasms deferred, this is all about seeking sex as creativity in itself. Pinch, the first track with a particularly driving drum beat, maintains the same basic rhythm for nine minutes, with climaxes and changing emphasis but a constant forwarding tone. Behind this Suzuki's voice rumbles about "hounds" and "dancing alone"; his meaning is lost beneath the rolling drums, the grind. There is something dreamy about this record, that makes each track flow into the next. As intimate expressions are exchanged, and tell signs are watched for signals of impending release, Pinch rolls into Sing Swan Song. The running water introduction and soft finger-picked guitars of Sing Swan Song is still just a continuation of the tone that has been set for the whole album.
Track by track the atmosphere evolves, without ever jarring its emotion or rhythm. This album is one soundscape, the songs can be taken alone but together form a vision. Only track four, Vitamin C(3), stands up and demands attention for itself. Possibly the single funkiest composition ever to come out of mainland Europe, Vitamin C has hooks that stand beyond the mood pieces of the rest of the record, and is one of the few Can tracks where the vocals come to the front, ahead of the drums. The lyrics maintain the dark, image rich, incomprehensibility of much of the rest of Suzuki's work, and the track draw to a close with a squeeking, white noise-like sequence of electronic pips that slowly drown out the drums. The style of these epic soundscapes laid dormant until the 90's.
But as the album progresses, the listener moves with it, and we reach towards the end of the record with I'm So Green(4). Here, Can finally give us something we can hold onto in itself, a defined structured piece of three minutes length, and it's a stormer. A single-able song, with lyrics that can be memorised, this gives the listener just a little bit of release. The guitars jangle to a climax, and fall back. The album comes to a close with Spoon — a song showing the dynamics that proved so influential for later electronica. The vocals soar into high register harmonies, and the passion slowly drains out. Maybe the sweat begins to chill. The beat becomes clinical, defined, and drum machine like. As the song spoons, the album closes with a fadeout.
There is more to the music, and sexual intent was only one of the purposes behind this record... But the rolling energy, the unique mix of tonal soundscapes and utterly driving drums makes this one of the finest albums for pairs ever written. Much like The Velvet Underground And Nico, Slint or Kyuss, Can's influence is greater than the band's own fame. Without them there would be no Battles, no Godspeed You Black Emperor! or even much of electronica. This record has earned a place deep in my guts, and I'm glad I first met it as an adult. It took me about 10 listens to understand what this music was about, and this is not for children.
(3)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngxcWeXdvfU&feature=related or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vLewIZEsOw&feature=related for a live version with less sexual intent...