The band’s first live show, a jammy tangle with lots of flute and tape work from David C. Johnson. The band was working to find a way out of the average rock improvisation but to get there they had to go through all of it first. Liebezeit’s drums would sound good through a geiger counter and he is loud as hell here. Schmidt destroys a piano during the show, allegedly, though I can’t hear it. The tapes come back, strong, in 1977, when Czukay makes that his main job. The flute doesn’t come back, and sometimes it sounds so right here that I wish it would.
Extended exposure to Can’s music will soften and dislodge any unexamined ideas you have about “songs” and “jams” and “cool music.” Convened during tumult but naturally disciplined, Can foregrounded what felt right, together, in the moment. The band never performed live with a set list, nor did they reproduce any of their recordings on stage. Their recorded catalog is important, in part, because everyone can claim it: punks, beatmakers, ambient buddies, moms, dads, jammertons, spiritual docents, meek commuters, corrupt overlords. In their formative years, Can played as many art happenings as concerts and, by the end of their run, they were logging top ten hits, trying to play reggae, and inviting strangers to sing with the band. As well they should have; this is how they found their first two singers, Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki.
One of the great rhythm bands with as much space as sound in their music, Can are perhaps best thought of as instrumental composers. The four main members rarely sang, and when they did, they generally used other people’s lyrics. The two singers who did write in English had such specific relationships to words that it seems unfair to think of their vocals as narrative, or as even words with specific, denotative meanings. The singers were as subtly and steadily musical as the instrumentalists they played with. (Language doesn’t stand a chance with this band.) Think of Can as making an eternal weave that they cut into human-sized pieces, and you’re close. If you leave yourself open to Can, the Sixties and Seventies fall into place and the division between hippies and punks dissolves.
Can formed in 1968, when student dissent was exploding across Europe. Co-founder Irmin Schmidt has made it clear that the band was not political in origin, though. As he told author Rob Young, in All Gates Open, “We were not involved in the ’68 movement, physically or even theoretically. In forming a group at that time we were not starting a commune; it was professional musicians who gave up part of their career, and gave up, above all, the idea of authorship. We were a collective, and inventing collectively.”
This mission was partly a response and a nod to Karlheinz Stockhausen, who both Schmidt and bassist Holger Czukay studied with. (Later in the band’s history, Stockhausen wrote a note to the immigration department of Cologne on behalf of singer Damo Suzuki, who’d been arrested on an old vagrancy warrant: “Society dearly needs birds like these.”) As much as Schmidt and Czukay admired the composer, they were anxious to get away from the idea of a towering, creative monad. As Czukay said of Stockhausen, “He was the church in the village. Everything, all the houses, were built around this church.” In 1966, Schmidt went to New York for a conducting competition and ended up hanging out with Terry Riley, La Monte Young, and Steve Reich. “Reich gave me It’s Gonna Rain on tape,” Schmidt told me. “This was the first time I heard this technique of the tape loop, and it totally fascinated me.”
In the fall of 1967, Schmidt invited Czukay to come back to Cologne and form a group. Groups like AMM and Musica Elettronica Viva were early models. “Rzewski had formed [MEV], which very spontaneously created music and they had not one composer,” Schmidt told me in August of 2022. “The music was the music of the group, and that was one of the influences for me to found Can. The main thing was that the music happened spontaneously between four, five, six people.”
Czukay was teaching in Switzerland and when he arrived in Cologne, he brought one of his students, a young guitarist named Michael Karoli. Popular music did not seem nearly radical enough to Schmidt and Czukay, but Karoli played them some Beatles tracks and a détente was reached. As Schmidt told David Stubbs, he wanted to have “a brilliant jazz musician and a classical musician and a rock guitarist – three phenomena of the twentieth century – and bring them together, see what happens when these persons meet, see what happens when these people, with all their abilities, start from scratch.”
Can was a product of dialectical churning—the happy grind between the composer and the group, the free and the regular, the abrasive and the sweet, the Bluto and the Popeye. Drummer Jaki Liebezeit had been playing improvised music for years before Schmidt asked him for names of drummers who might join their band. Tired of playing free jazz with Manfred Schoof’s band, Liebezeit nominated himself. Schmidt was surprised but trusted Liebezeit, having little idea that he was starting a band with a clock-like dynamo who relished straight time and knew there was eternal change inside regularity. (Somewhat unexpectedly, Karoli said that Liebezeit gave him “the creeps.” “I thought he was a murderer, or someone capable of committing a murder,” David Stubbs reports Karoli saying, in Future Days.) The band initially included a composer and flutist named David C. Johnson, another member of the Stockhausen orbit who did electronic work at the WDR studio in Cologne. After a few film soundtracking moments and live shows, Johnson took off and was replaced by the band’s first singer, Malcolm Mooney, an American painting student trying to avoid the draft while bouncing around Europe with a friend. Hildegard Schmidt, Irmin’s wife (and the band’s manager since 1972) invited him to meet Irmin. (Fun fact: West Germany officially forbade managers for artists. As Stubbs reports, “such business was supposed to be handled by the art agency of the Federal Employment Office.”)
“When Malcolm came into the studio, we were working,” Schmidt told me. “We had ‘Father Cannot Yell,’ the instrumental version, sort of done. We were very happy about it, we played it to him, and he spontaneously sang. He was not supposed to become a singer. He was a friend, a painter, but when we put the tape on, he made up words on the spot. We found that it made the piece better. It was wonderful. So from that moment on, he was the singer.”
The liner notes of the The Lost Tapes reproduce Czukay’s recollection of the same moment: “We recorded the first piece—‘Father Cannot Yell’—and I said to myself, ‘Holger, would you have ever expected that you would play something like that?’ I was surprised by myself, I couldn’t believe it. Because I was thinking in completely different terms; I thought we were making a group like Stockhausen. And then Malcolm came in and we think, ‘Why not Stockhausen with a hell of a drive?’ This was not experienced before!”
Can had been a band for less than a year when they started recording in the first iteration of Inner Space, fashioned quickly in one room of a mansion outside Cologne called Schloss Nörvenich. An art collector named Christoph Vohwinkel rented the building to give artists space and let Can (also called Inner Space at the time, confusingly) stay and work for a year rent-free. Schmidt was playing organ and early synths, Czukay was on bass, and Karoli was on electric guitar. Many of the band’s early recordings were done for goofy and horny experimental short films, though some tracks were just pulled from the marathon sessions that became the band’s default working method. Mooney was an instant dab hand and the band’s first recordings, later released as Delay 1968, plant a stake right in the middle of it all. They sound a bit like Hendrix, a bit like the Who, maybe the Velvets, but mostly like Can, a band that has the distinct feature of listening to itself and having patience with the unfolding of things, an attitude they could have learned through free jazz improvisation or the compositional ambitions of the post-serialists. Mooney was a great presence, and still sounds perfect on these early records, but he had fights inside himself, bigger than music. After a year or so, he left and was replaced by Kenji “Damo” Suzuki, a young Japanese man Czukay and Liebezeit heard singing in the street.
Suzuki’s voice is as unpredictable as any instrument and as piercing as any electronic sound source. What the band was able to achieve with Suzuki was an ability to never decide. He looked great in a velvet one piece jumpsuit and made English stranger than silence. They loved repetition enough to sound like a rock band, but they rarely wrote the hooks or stories a hit demands. (They could, though—see “I Want More” and “Vitamin C.”) And none of the instrumentalists in the band much thought about what other people did in their roles. Czukay kept great time on the bass but often provided whatever served as the melody. Karoli had been influenced in Cologne by Michael Birl, a cellist who played the strings with a vibrator, and that sensibility stuck with Karoli; sounds and shapes were more important than traditional guitar parts, although he played those, too. Schmidt is such a subtle band member that it’s often impossible to remember what he did on a particular track but every time you do hear him, you realize the song would be radically different without his part. In the center of it all was Jaki Liebzeit, subtly altering the intensity of stick hits and demoting cymbals to near banishment. (He was OK with the hi-hat but the crash and ride got intermittent love at best. As he told Stubbs, cymbals are “white noise.”) Listen to Liebezeit on a track like “Mother Sky” and you’ll hear how patterns and melodies and forms are not the only way to convey musical information. Traditional concepts of writing are besides the point. There is so much spiritual and psychic energy in Liebezeit’s drums that you could never live long enough to wear it out. Michael Rother of Neu! and Harmonia made four albums with Liebezeit, as many as he made with either of his bands. “Jaki was a magician,” Rother told me.
Through the 1973 album, Future Days, Suzuki and Can made a version of rock music that had no real holding container. Songs could go on for twenty minutes or two. The catchy ones weren’t the shorter ones. The band didn’t use a traditional recording studio for almost five years, and then only for mixing. The records now thought of as stone classics, like Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi, were recorded to two-track in converted spaces never imagined as recording studios. In 1971, the band moved from the Nörvenich mansion and took over an abandoned cinema in Weilerswist near Cologne. “These were eight years spent in this room,” Schmidt said about Weilersist to Young. “Our normal life when we were here, we started working at two, three o’clock here, sometimes four o’clock, and then went away when other people went to work, at six o’clock in the morning. And we did that day after day, all year long, without any interruption, except to tour.”
A lot of what they did was cut down what they had recorded, and much of that work fell to Czukay. As Stubbs reports Schmidt saying, “Holger edited. He was the technician. But the editing was shared by the rest of us. The decision-making as to how the collage was constructed was down to Michael, Holger and me. Jaki didn’t like the editing thing at all – but he had a very important role. He listened to it and if we had fucked up the groove it was not allowed. We had to, when we made edits, make sure there was a continuity of the groove. It could change, but it had to make sense as a groove. It couldn’t speed up for no reason, for instance. The architecture was done all together.”
When Suzuki left, the band ended up with a fitful relationship to vocals. Czukay sometimes did his comic thing; sometimes Karoli did his goth schtick. The band eventually welcomed in two members of Traffic: Rosko Gee on bass, and percussionist Reebop. Albums like Saw Delight have aged better than the band’s early psych freakouts. Long a band with its mind and ears all over the world—a condition Julian Cope calls, very suspiciously, “internationalized”—Can started playing a nameless hybrid of various musics in the mid Seventies. Sometimes like reggae, sometimes like variants of Turkish rock, late Can albums are likely going to be the biggest revelation for a newcomer now. My money is on a big Flow Motion revival any second. Mooney returned to the band briefly in the Eighties for Rite Time (it was not) and now he is playing live with a band that includes several Can numbers in his set, as is Suzuki. My favorite quote about Can came from Karoli, quoted in the Stubbs book: “The soul of the entire thing was not composed of our four or five souls but was a creature named Can. That is very important. And this creature, Can, made the music. When my hour comes, I’ll know that, apart from my children, I’ve helped create another living being.”
A soundtrack for a goofy political movie with free lovin’, this very first studio recording is wildly underrated if it is rated at all. David Johnson’s flute works, the whole thing is beautifully recorded. “Hexapussy” and “Memographie” are led by Schmidt’s compositional sense and feel a bit like Stockhausen run through one of John Zorn’s game pieces. Liebezeit has not begun his mammoth timekeeping project and the overall mood is freaky art jazz field trip.
Originally entitled Prepare To Meet Thy Pnoom, these recordings apparently didn’t please any record labels, which is hard to believe now. There are bits of the age stuck to them, but on “Thief” and “Butterfly” they sound only like themselves. Liebezeit’s drums are tuned to a frequency far removed from the bashing so popular in England at the time, and Mooney plays chicken with Jaki the whole time, kicking the band into what Czukay called “A RHYTHM.” Michael Karoli’s guitar is way out front and Schmidt’s keyboards are a bit submerged here, though they lift everything when they cut through. “Thief” is as good as anything the band ever did, if simply for giving everyone a very clear iteration of How Jaki Tuned His Drums.
Egging Liebezeit on with his chanting, Mooney sounds like an old pro here, getting hitched on phrases that he worries into the ground: “He hasn’t been born yet” is that phrase in “Father Cannot Yell,” the album’s opener, the track Schmidt considered the real beginning of his career. “Mary, Mary So Contrary” is a mid tempo number that sounds like the Red Hot Chili Peppers (says my wife, Heidi, very accurately) and maybe doesn’t go on the mixtape. “Outside My Door” uses a guitar phrase that paraphrases Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive,” then a fairly big underground hit. Here, Can are part of the chronology, one of many bands looking for the same thing. On the final track, “You Doo Right,” Can are looking for nothing but Can. For twenty glorious minutes, they leave 1968 behind. Czukay hotfoots an octave and Liebezeit sets up a pattern on his tom toms, with no cymbals at all. For the first two minutes of the song, Can are just a bass, drums, and voice trio. Schmidt then enters with a modest drone, moving from note to note, letting each ring for several seconds. Three minutes in, Karoli’s guitar goes krang and starts to fry notes, slowly. Nobody is moving quickly or noodling around. We are in a place where repetition is central and genre is sort of disabled. A blues song would change chords, but this does not. An American psychedelic track would have soloing and triumphant singing, none of which you’ll find. This song keeps calming itself down and settling into new centers. It’s confident without being aggressive, and stripped of much high end, as there is no cymbal sound and the guitar and organ both slide along in the low midrange. Right around five and a half minutes, when you expect the track to end, it sets off for another fifteen minutes, powered by Liebezeit turning into a locomotive of tempo and tone, and Karoli turning his guitar into an actual locomotive, dopplering into the distance. Mooney keeps singing, though the words “you do right” no longer sound like they mean anything. Around eight minutes, the band considers ending it all, but Liebezeit keeps his stick going against the rim of a drum, as Mooney chants: “Man, got to move on, man you got to move on, man.” Czukay takes over for Liebezeit and after a breather, everyone comes back in and bangs on for ten more glorious minutes. Can is in the building.
In the tradition of Gavin Bryars’s Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet and William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops, Canaxis 5 (later shortened to Canaxis) is one of the most important items in the extended Can catalog. If you find yourself sympathetic to experimental or ambient music in any sense at all, chuck whatever you’re listening to and get with this. Czukay and his friend Rolf roamed through the WDR studios in Cologne and created a forest of tape loops. The two big sources were a Folkways recording of Vietnamese folk songs and a recording of Pierre de La Rue’s Offertorium. Reports differ as to what tracks were used, though as far as I can tell, the first track uses “Doh Dam Tara (Love Song).” Over the course of two twenty-minute tracks, Czukay and Dammers create something more elegant and piercing than anything else in the Can catalog. The keening, multi-tonal vocal performance is both sort of unsettling and profoundly beautiful. Behind that and the symphonic sample being looped, Czukay and Dammers set up a subtle sequence of guitar and electronics, kind of like a finger brushed across the spokes of a bicycle wheel. Really affecting and completely contemporary stuff.
Can’s second album, Soundtracks, according to the back cover of that album, wasn’t their second. This was a collection of pieces they’d done for movies, most of them gigs arranged by their founder, Irmin Schmidt, the one band member with a full-time career as an academic and teacher. They’d changed to a new singer, Damo Suzuki, a Japanese teenager who had reached Germany, after a short time in a Swedish commune. They’d lost Malcolm Mooney, though his voice is here on two tracks. The most popular song from this album, on Spotify, is “She Brings The Rain,” a quiet jazz-adjacent song with no drums. Mooney sings like a real hep cat, less tormented than usual. Some find this track “romantic,” some think it is a complete piss-take. Suzuki, though, drives Can to find something completely separate from anything else happening anywhere. Singing in very idiosyncratic English, and with emotional emphases that are impossible to predict, Suzuki was as uncanny (sorry) as everything else around him. All of the shorter songs here (especially “Tango Whiskyman”) are great but “Mother Sky” is where a whole other thing begins. Suzuki says only a few words, mostly repeating one line: “I say madness is too pure like mother sky.” (The British label, Too Pure, took their name from this lyric, and one of their bands, Th’ Faith Healers, covered “Mother Sky.”) Suzuki kind of sneaks up on his own words, reciting them a little bit lost in the intonation. He has another, deeply anguished register, but this is his moonwalker zone, spelunker on the far shores of consciousness, finding the purity of his own madness. Even Schmidt, not given to much noisiness, makes some of his most psychotic keyboard shrieks here. Karoli also kind of solos for the entire song, which is neither here nor there. He’s great when he mirrors Czukay’s steady octaves, hanging out in a single note.
Their last full album recorded at Schloss Nörvenich, Tago Mago is one of those sorcerer tools—it will simply never stop making things happen when you set it off. Having to jam the entire band onto a two-track tape machine gave Czukay some kind of otherworldly focus as an engineer and tape editor. All the instruments feel casually themselves, unsullied, but also entirely present. Karoli, not celebrated often enough, makes some of the wildest ice pilot sonar noises on this album, completely beyond the world of key (but not melody). Suzuki is at his musical best here, and the entire thing flows together without any bumps. “Paperhouse” is a gorgeous stumble around a boat and “Mushroom” is what the last cafe plays before the big one hits. “Halleluwah” is the finest straight time beat-keeping ever recorded, and “Aumgn” is their peak of mixing and editing mayhem. (I really wish they had ten more “Aumgn”s.) As one-two, sequential punches, these tracks flatten everything around them that isn’t Sly Stone or Miles. And even then, it’s a very close match. “Peking O.” is a fantastic sandwich of organ and tinfoil guitar and rhythm machine bug outs. Can were as organically avant garde as they were organically funky. The rare double LP that should have been twice as long. I’ve listened to this once a month since I first found it in 1986.
Newly installed in the second iteration of Inner Space, assembled in an abandoned Weilerswist cinema, Can was working and gigging non-stop. Three songs here— “Spoon,” “I’m So Green,” and “Vitamin C”—were already out as singles when it came time to deliver an album to United Artists. Three new songs were recorded for that purpose (“Pinch,” “Sing Swan Song,” and “One More Night”) as well as a massive soundcrush, in the tradition of “Aumgn,” called “Soup.” As energetic and spacy as Tago Mago, this album gets it done in half the time, without sacrificing any of that Can alchemy. They worked harder than anyone else in their slot. Intense, baggy, wild, sharp, completely of its own world.
My wife, Heidi, heard “Spray” the other day and said “the thing about Can is that they are always playing and have always been and always will be.” With their new Neumann mics, whose sensitivity enabled them to play more softly, Can went into the center of their sensuous and athletic practice. This is the album that best balances the heavy and light—it feels like we are in the middle of the room with them, the noise dialed down and the heat turned up. “Future Days” is Damo at his dreamiest and “Spray” is what it sounds like—a burbling mesh of percussion and instrument splashes. Along with the electric Miles Davis band, Can are unfolding everything they find and looking at it carefully. “Moonshake” distills the eighth note pulse running through the first side of the album and fills Can’s little sardine can with rubies. Side two, “Bel Air,” is one of the band’s most remarkable productions. The band claims it was played once and never again, even though it appears in many live sets, albeit in radically altered form. Moving through three sections taken from three different takes, Can set themselves adrift on memory bliss and wind through twenty minutes of soft noise and hard sparkles, the pulse of the first side surging through and then receding. (Fans of The Fall will recognize the descending riff of “I Am Damo Suzuki” as the final figure in “Bel Air.”)
Michael Karoli’s voice is strong on “Dizzy Dizzy” (“head is curly and messy”?) and “Quantum Physics” is one of the better quiet Can tracks. I wish there were more Can albums this skeletal and rubbed out. Karoli’s electric violin all over “Splash”? More nuts than usual. “Chain Reaction” is peak Can sprawl, everyone trying to match Jaki’s titan pulse.
Issued as thirteen tracks by United Artists in 1974, Virgin reissued it in 1976 with six more tracks and made the first of several great lost Can LPs. Constructed from studio leftovers as old as 1968, this collection is a wilder companion to Soundtracks, with Damo and Malcolm splitting the microphone duties. It is more Mooney’s gig here as three tracks place him close to the top: “Mother Upduff,” a long tale like the Velvet Underground’s “The Gift,” “The Empress and The Ukraine King,” a proto-rap freestyle, and “Connection,” a rock tune proving Mooney could have held his own with Daltrey and Davies any day. “Cutaway” is a beautiful bolshy bugout, and the rest of the album is filled with Ethnological Forgery Series entries, which make all the sense in the world here.
Their first album made with the 16-track machine, it’s a loose and jammy thing, all of it pleasurable. Michael Karoli is the singer here, and the lyricist is Peter Gilmour, unless it’s Karoli and the band. Having told you that, I will add that this is only notable because it’s not Damo. The singing is entirely unnecessary and easily ignored (except for some weirdness on “Hunters and Collectors”). It’s a pleasant bubbler until the final track, “Unfinished,” which is a glorious thirteen-minute freakout edit like Czukay’s Canaxis or “Aumgn” from Tago Mago. It shreds, it stumbles, it passes out. Just borked!
This spends a lot of time being crystalline and gentle, a bit like the Dead, and then charges into a wall of sea spray. Vital and well-recorded.
Can may not fully make sense until you hear one of the live albums. The only shred of known music comes at the end, when Holger and Irmin sort of run through “Vitamin C” but not without the band sending it to the bottom of the ocean and then pulling it back by the bow. The rest of this is spontaneous composition: delicate, reckless, resentful, careful, demented. This band had the range and they did not need songs. Essential.
This, oddly, has one of Can’s few chart hits, a goofy thing called “I Want More,” which isn’t nearly as good as M’s “Pop Muzik,” but is in the same oddball bag of well-executed trifles. The band is very into reggae and this album ends up having the same shape as Landed: trifles and larks, and then a heavy back end. “Smoke” is technically “Ethnological Forgery Series 59”—huge credit to Can for tagging their own cultural appropriation out of the gate (not sure who else has done that and this was early in this discussion [also it’s not even a specific place or culture they’re imitating, so I’m not sure what it really is])—and it’s a big beautiful chunk of Jaki pounding his rack toms to death married to some spooky, dark echoey bits. Very underrated, excellent track. And then “Flow Motion” is a ten-minute vamp, sort of reggae, sort of funk, a bit like something from Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul. Maybe a touch of On The Corner? Not amazing but full of rich Can meat.
The band expands to admit bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist Reebop, both recently in Traffic. And though the band is still recording at Inner Space (the cinema in Weilerswist), they are once again mixing the final product at a “real” studio with outside help. (In this case, Manfred Schunke mixed it in 3D “Artificial Head Stereo,” which is some sort of spatialized approach that kind of works? Sort of.) The band is re-energized with the new members and the whole thing has a nicely serious feel, as if everyone has shown up again to get the job done. As is the case with Can in almost every instance, the longest track is the best: “Animal Waves,” driven by a sweet Jaki/Rosko/Reebop beat and gives Michale Karoli room to go nuts on the electric violin, which should have happened more often! It also has a vocal flown in by Czukay from who knows where, more than a little like “Boat Woman Song” on Canaxis.
This was originally released as part of the Can box and draws from the collection of live tapes that fan Andy Hall collected, the same stash that has yielded archival releases like Live in Stuttgart and Live In Brighton. The live bootlegs are a real new world for Can enthusiasts, as little of it sounds like anything on the studio records. The opener, “Jynx,” is an instrumental jam from 1975, sixteen minutes of the band airing it out, Jaki very much at peak intensity. The version of “Dizzy Dizzy” from the same year (different show) is spare and brutal, contained and vivid. The version of “Vernal Equinox” here is fabulously freaked out and fractured. (I’m not sure how they decided to use that title for this track, beyond a tiny melody snippet.) “Colchester Finale” is thirty-seven minutes from 1972 with Damo freaking the hell out—you can imagine! Completely nuts.
Rosko Gee sort of takes over here, singing on several tracks and driving a few tracks with genuinely great bass playing. Also, this is the only Can album to feature Conny Plank? (He mixed this at his studio, but nothing more.) More than a little of this sounds like Byrne and Eno’s My Life In the Bush of Ghosts ahead of the fact. “Seven Days Awake” is a great combination of Jaki’s hollow thunder and chorus bass and soupy guitar. “Give Me No Roses” is one of the few times they lapse into actual muzak, and it’s sort of fascinating. (Who does Rosko Gee think he’s being? Donald Fagen? I really don’t know.) The bedrock playing is here maybe my favorite out of the late Can stuff. A dub album of this one would be fantastic. I also love the opener, “Serpentine,” a bubbler.
The final album in the original run continues the sitting soft that began with Future Days, a sound as much a part of the band’s process as hard-knock tunes like “Mushroom.” “Safe” is a lovely, dubby thing, and “Sodom” is a slow march of dread, a definite touchstone for Public Image Ltd later that same year. “Aspectacle” is another Rosko bubbler, a disco-ish jam that holds its own and gives Schmidt room enough to make a small, Moroder-ish melody and sheets of spaced out sound.
How to put this? I think it’s great that the band reunited with their original vocalist, Malcolm Mooney, in 1989. I really do. And it’s fascinating to hear Jaki Liebezeit playing through the infamous gated drum sound of the Eighties. It really is. There are eight songs here! You will really feel each one if you listen to this.
It both was and wasn’t a good idea, opening up the Can multitracks to the hotshot remixers of the Eighties and Nineties. The good bits more than make up for the dead weight, though. Russell Haswell and Bruce Gilbert’s remix of “TV Spot” is perfectly chaotic and swirly, a true nod to the band’s open-ended nature. The jewel here is the U.N.K.L.E. remix of “Vitamin C,” which strips out the vocal (sadly) and pumps up the drums (especially the kick) to create eight glorious minutes of beat magic, derived from what was there to begin with. Let Jaki’s right foot keep you aloft. Magic. The Orb’s remix of “Halleluwah” is dusted and holy, a beautiful submersion of the original. (I play both of these all the time.) Daniel Miller’s Sunroof remix of “Oh Yeah” is pleasantly messy and Carl Craig’s Blade Runner remix of “Future Days” is like a perfect boutique hotel theme. OG Pete Shelley and Black Radio turns “Father Cannot Yell” into a jungle feedback anthem (v nice) and Jah Wobble and Secret Knowledge turn “Oh Yeah” into a bratty chonk of swamp loops. There is a great EP in here.
Irmin Schmidt himself told me, “I like The Lost Tapes very much because it tells a story, in a way, from beginning to end, over the years, which is very nice. And sometimes it’s very rough, which I quite like.” This is probably the best post-Can Can album, and it’s definitely the longest. I’m not sure I’d change more than two or three songs in the course of all 3 CDs here. Much of it is as strong as anything in the main discography. “Waiting For The Streetcar” is a hardcore tennis match between Jaki and Malcolm, with some wild Schmidt organ. “Evening All Day” is a gorgeous drumless thing with harp and Schmidt noises and all manner of madness. So good. The whole thing works so beautifully, and it’s all on the more noisy and fuzzy side of Can, so you can imagine why it didn’t make the cut on the original albums, but that means that all of these pieces have been searching for each other all this time and now the whole has been restored. The live version of “Mushroom” is a dread-filled creep that has only the faintest relationship to the released version. In a way, the best Can album? This creates such a distinct world for these three hours. The Miles Davis funk of “Barnacles”? The rave-up storm of “Networks of Foam”? If you are a Can fan, and don’t know this, become excited. This is canon.
It’s more than a little funny that a band with almost no pop-friendly impulses ended up releasing these 23 songs on singles. (No idea why this isn’t 24—maybe one of these singles was one-sided?) The odder thing is that it works, at least in some fashion. These fellas were catchy as hell! I mean, what is “Return”? The flip side of “Don’t Say No,” and it’s a bop.