Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I'd Love to Turn You On #13: Can - Tago Mago

Can should be considered one of the greatest bands of all time.  Some people already know this.  Some may have heard of them, but never heard them.  Many have never heard of them at all.  Emerging from Germany in the late 60s with a background in jazz and avant-garde classical, the members of Can fused psychedelia, noise, funk, improv, and even straight-up rock into a heady brew the likes of which had not been heard before.  They never penetrated the American market, but had mild success at home and around Europe.  However, their influence on future generations of musicians would be immense. Tago Mago, their third album, was originally released as a double album in 1971.  That year also saw the release of generally acknowledged all-time classics like Sticky Fingers, Who's Next, and Zeppelin IV.  It will never be featured non-stop on classic rock radio (and that's probably a good thing), but I'll put Tago Mago on my list of all-time greats, right near the top.  It starts off with "Paperhouse," a slow-building infectious rocker highlighted by Michael Karoli's twisting guitar lines and Damo Suzuki's haunting whispered vocals that build to an ecstatic yelp.  This number slides right in to the minimalist funk of "Mushroom," with Jaki Liebezeit's amazing precision drumming leading the way.  "Oh Yeah" tops off what was once side 1 with a prime example of the "motorik" beat, the driving, infectious sound that was a staple of Krautrock, as the German rock scene of the time was known.  Above the beat, Irmin Schmidt plays some moody synth lines and Karoli climaxes the building drive with a spectacular solo.

The centerpiece of the album the absolutely amazing, 18-minute jam "Halleluwah," which originally encompassed the whole of side 2.  Like many Can numbers, this was edited together from numerous improvisational sessions, yet works as a seamless whole.  Holger Czukay drops some serious bass throughout.  Liebezeit's beats are driving and Karoli provides more guitar fireworks.  The funk is infectious throughout and the climax is, once again, dramatic.

Next we move onto the most experimental aspects of the album with the extended tracks "Aumgn" and "Peking O."  These make even greater use of tape edits and may seem on the first few listens to be just so much noise.  But they truly invite multiple listens and there are many discoveries awaiting the adventurous listener.  "Aumgn" concludes with an awesome Liebezeit drum solo combined with some trippy keyboard effects from Schmidt.  "Peking O" features experiments with a primitive drum machine and a concluding funky, proto-electronic passage.  Both tracks feature Suzuki's wild barks and other exclamations that may be off-putting at times but are still an essential component of the overall sound.  After all of this madness, it's easy to forget closing song "Bring Me Coffee or Tea."  It starts as the album's mellowest moment with soothing keyboards and acoustic guitar, then moves into yet another slow build to a dramatic climax.  A fitting conclusion to all the amazing music that came before.

Tago Mago is an album I have listened to many, many times and always found something new.  I'm sure I'll be doing so again and again.  If you like what you hear, the rest of their catalog, particularly Ege Bamyasi, Future Days, and Monster Movie are also strongly recommended.  The two-disc Anthology is a good starting point for an overview of their entire career.  Give these recordings a good, solid listen and I’m sure you'll agree that Can is one of the most innovative, exciting and flat-out best bands in all of rock and roll.
- Adam Reshotko

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