Can are one of the most praised Krautrock bands ever-if not the most praised-; their uniqueness is timeless, their originality is unbeatable, and their influence on following bands was, and is, massive. Even though among fans and critics there is controversy regarding which of their opuses is the greatest, ‘Tago Mago’ is the LP that is most loved and the most known of the band. Indeed, ‘Tago Mago’ is one of the great albums of Rock music.
Can had already spiced up the hype of this 1971 release with their first two albums ‘Monster Movie’ and ‘Soundtracks’. But no one expected anything like this: because, even today, the music here is unpredictable, unbelievably quirky, creepy, jaw-dropping. Released as a double LP, only the most ambitious fellows back in the day were able to finish the seventy minutes of ‘Tago Mago’ (it was a pretty massive length for an album during that period), but those few had their musical life changed. Overly ambitious, experimental, and innovative, the album maintains those elements that were typical for the first two albums; that is, a strong Psychedelic Rock influence, mixed with a genuinely Krautrock feel. But those two albums stopped there. Here, Can put in Jazz, concrete music, pure avant-garde, some minimal Electronic experiments, and much more. ‘Tago Mago’ is the ultimate hymn to Experimental Rock and to musical ambition.
Side one of the album is the most melodic and accessible, containing three relatively short songs: ‘Paperhouse’ is the absolute classic Can song, thanks to it’s soothing, haunting melody and almost lazy sounding musicianship, everything smothered in this surreal aura that gives the track a noticeable Can stamp. ‘Mushroom’ is however neurotic, tense, as if it were a sountrack to a nervous breakdown: once again the band’s innovative sense of melody becomes a strong character of the song, making it another timeless classic. ‘Oh Yeah’ is musically in between the two songs: tense and soothing, with curious reversed vocals, and very repetitive, hypnotic rhythms that mark the entire seven minutes of the track. It is though with the monstrously ambitious ‘Halleluwah’ that Can start creating something that has never been done before and has not yet been repeated. The dorsal spine of the piece an odd, repetitive drum rhythm that guides and shapes the music for the entire song, which is constantly building, morphing, collapsing, becoming bleaker or becoming creepier. ‘Halleluwah’, for it’s jaw-dropping structure and evolutions, still remains a Krautrock classic. The third side of the album is dedicated to the proto-ambient/noise soundscapes of ‘Aumgn’, an amazingly avant-garde instrumental, to the edge of Musique Concrete. The final side features firstly ‘Pekin O’, even more bizarre and innovating than the previous tracks, with some Electronic experiments, utterly unorthodox noises, loud squeaks, simply a song that gives the word Experimental a whole new meaning. ‘Bring Me Coffee or Tea’ is the calm after the storm, an almost anti climactic ending that brings the listener down to earth after sixty plus minutes of freaky madness.
‘Tago Mago’ is a landmark album in music history, an LP that redefined the word ‘Experimental’ and Ambition. An essential piece of art in anybody’s music collection, one of those albums no one can live without, after having experienced it.
Following the release of the seminal “Tago Mago”, Can created yet another masterpiece, “Ege Bamyasi”, an album that went towards a completely different musical direction, maintaining still those few essential characteristics the band wasunique for.
Compared to “Tago Mago”, there is a different, yet still out of the norm approach in attempting to find new horizons and experiment further: while the repetition, the tribal, driving, and somewhat funky rhythms and the psychedelic feel are still a major trait, the Avant-Garde elements are not at all that many (“Tago Mago” on the other hand redefined the concept of Experimental Rock with tracks like “Aumgn”, “Halleluwah”, or “Peking O”), thus the album is more accessible and slightly more melodic. The tone also is not as wild, and there are more than a few occasions where the band lays down a chill atmosphere, similar to the ones “Future Days” had all over the place.
“Ege Bamyasi” changes from mood to mood, creating a solid structure that gives plenty of variety. But what is most impressive about this release is it’s flow, continuous and fluent as if the listener was experiencing drug-induced atmosphere swings: There are, though, lingering elements along all the songs of the album, especially the hypnotic rhythms. Songs like the grandiose hit/success, which happens to be the closing track, “Spoon”, or “Vitamin C”, are catchy and engaging, while other moments are more meant to be muscle relaxants, that stretch out to the point where the listener is oblivious to anything else surrounding him: “Sing Swan Song” is mellow and melodic, “One More Night”, the following track, much more lively yet still incredibly hypnotic. “Soup” is possibly the masterpiece of the album, ten minutes that will be regarded as one of the greatest moments of Can’s career, because of it’s wild vocals, amazing sounds, and great varieties of experimentation within it. “I’m So Green” another short, but strongly impactful track that has a great melody as well as fantastic musicianship. Not to forget the opening nine minutes of the album, dominated entirely by the track “Pinch”, a perfect appetizer to what will happen next.
“Ege Bamyasi” is one of those albums that sticks with the listener because of it’s strange, yet magically ecstatic nature. An LP that will contribute in putting Can high up there, among the greats of contemporary music.
‘Future Days’ follows ‘Ege Bamyasi’, leaving the fans stunned by how different this sounds from everything else the beloved band had done. Nevertheless, because of it’s bravery, it still remains as an important Krautrock album and one of the highlights of Can’s glorious artistic career.
‘Future Days’ indeed is the quietest of the band’s albums; some have even drawn comparisons to Tropical music, because of it’s extremely calm atmosphere. The production is very toned down, lowering the volume of all the instruments, especially the vocals, which seem always lost and drowned by the music. Of course, the lower tone is not accidental, it’s just another form of experimentation Can decided to use, instead of the stunningly bizarre sounds used in ‘Tago Mago’. We still have though a lot of typical Can elements, particularly the always very creative and versatile rhythm section, at times dominant in the music, at times rigid, at times loose, at time driving, at times laid back. It is though a much more melodic album, thanks to the straight-forward guitars and soft vocals. In other moments, it feels that the band is improvising instrumentally, especially thanks to the touch of organs, which give to the music almost a Jam Band feel.
‘Future Days’ includes only four tracks that barely end at the forty minute mark, like ‘Ege Bamyasi’. But the forty minutes can be quite puzzling, starting from the first nine minutes, the title track, a great start for this album. It’s a bit of a builder, where the punch is a soft, yet psychedelic influenced melody with Damo Suzuki’s almost whispering vocals in the background. But surrounding that are tons of buried details, as if you were listening to the track in another room, with your ear attached to the wall. Same thing goes for the more lively ‘Spray’, a long instrumental that is a little less repetitive and hypnotic and much more progressive in nature. After the small little track ‘Moonshake’, that is however the loudest and liveliest this album gets, comes the grandiose, near to twenty minute epic ‘Bel Air’, a sort of mixture between Krautrock and Progressive, being at times repetitive, however having a structure very similar to the one of a suite, with a few melody changes and some free experimentation in between.
This album isn’t one that exactly clicks at first listen, because it surprises and, in a way, disappoints a listener who perhaps was fond of the previous work of the band, like I was. ‘Future Days’ ends up being once again a courageous and interesting LP, contributing in giving the title to this wonderful band as the best Krautrock band.