Can - Delay 1968
Some readers are likely to think my rating is too high but please allow me to state my case...
While DELAY (1968) was originally released in 1981 it stands as the earliest Can music commercially available [note - judging from some of the things I've seen just now getting released on vinyl, this may no longer be true!] along with a few tracks from the odds and ends collection (UN)LIMITED EDITION. The tracks on DELAY were originally intended to be the debut album (supposedly titled `Prepare to Meet Thy Pnoom') but they were ultimately passed over (for foolish reasons of course). These songs could accurately be described as "raw" although that term is a bit misleading. It's true that the garage-rock sound lacks the fine colors and textures that would blossom on subsequent albums, but the music here is deceptively precise. It has a ragged quality, but only in the way it sounds, not, for the most part, in the way it's played. This music has been described as "proto-Can", but I actually think their style and skill is very much in evidence if not to the full extent of their talents. After listening to DELAY several times, it becomes apparent just how well constructed these songs are. One becomes more aware of their subtleties and how different they are from one another. I couldn't say exactly how Can created this music but I do know they often made it by just jamming, banging out songs which were later reconstructed through tape editing by bassist and studio wizard Holger Czukay. I believe some of the songs on DELAY have been created this way but if so the edits are so skillfully done I just can't be sure. No matter: Can fans should definitely have this one in their collection.
I was tempted to give this release four stars if only to represent the fact that Can would go on to greater heights in the early 70s. But DELAY is truly a great album from the peerless Can, an incredible band that lives and reigns in its own world. It's quite amazing and much more unique than most rock/fusion/what-have-you albums out there, especially ones made in the 60's like DELAY was, so I believe the five star rating is well deserved.
If new listeners are inclined to explore Can music in chronological order, DELAY certainly isn't a bad place to start. But those new to Can probably should begin with the great triumvirate: TAGO MAGO, EGE BAMYASI and FUTURE DAYS, all featuring vocalist Damo Suzuki who replaced Malcom Mooney, the vocalist on DELAY and MONSTER MOVIE, the official debut. After suffering a breakdown Mr. Mooney returned to his native country (the United States) although he did reunite with Can for an album in the mid-80s ... The core Can members are of course German and though they never got big, their influence on music throughout Europe and America is huge. They are surely one of the most important bands of the latter half of the 20th century. That's not just my opinion...you can take it to the bank~!
"Butterfly" - begins as an intense grind with slashing, monotonous guitar chords and vocalist Mooney sounding crazed, like a jogger who begins to hallucinate after running for miles on end. Keyboardist Irmin Schmidt contributes moody, elongated notes on organ, the dominant keyboard instrument on the album. The supreme talent of drummer Jaki Leibezeit is somewhat reserved but quite apparent to anyone paying attention. Guitarist Michael Karoli switches gears midway from harsh clang to rollicking metallic strums. Careful listening will also reveal subtle sonic background touches including distant, rhythmic vocal howls and what sounds like a dying saxophone. In short, this is a really weird song quite different from anything else you've ever heard.
"PNOOM" - is only 26 seconds long, a playful, jazzy scronk with bleeping saxophone notes and an abrupt ending that segues directly into...
"Nineteen Century Man" - More relaxed than "Butterfly", this one features swinging jazz guitar and a shuffling rhythm you can actually dance to. Mooney belts out improvised words with conviction as Czukay lays down a loping bass line and Schmidt contributes some meandering yet driven organ passages. A groovy, fun song.
"Thief" - is contemplative and low-key with a subdued, eerie intensity. Mooney adopts a gravelly voice (also evident on other DELAY cuts as well as "Soul Desert" from SOUNDTRACKS, the transitional second album which features two leftover Mooney songs). "Thief" builds with slow rumbles and crashes from Jaki and muscular bass from Holger. Michael Karoli is crucial to the direction and feel of the song, a statement that holds true for most of these early tracks. Irmin in particular would play a larger role on later releases, but on DELAY he mostly just hovers in the background. Karoli and Mooney are the dominant forces on DELAY. But clearly every instrument is essential - especially, of course, the drums of Jaki Liebezeit, genius drummer extraordinaire. Can is first and foremost a mind-blowing, one-of-a-kind rhythm machine and in this light Jaki is its most creative element.
"Man Named Joe" - Irmin's playing is most prominent on this rollicking, jazzy groover. It is the loosest, most ragged track on the album. A raucous, bizarro tune.
"Uphill" - cranks up and chugs along with a driving force of increasing intensity, fueled by Mooney's clipped vocals, Liebezeit's insistent drumming, Czukay's pumping, surging bass and Karoli's vicious guitar splatter.
"Little Star of Bethlehem" - "Froggy and Toady carried off the tangerine seeds one by one and came back for the popcorn after dinner." Yes, these lyrics are ridiculous but obviously they're not meant to be taken seriously. Malcolm Mooney largely improvised his vocals and more than anything they're about the feel of the song. With that in mind, his contributions are actually pretty fantastic. This track is a laid-back groove with encircling, taunting guitar and spooky keyboards. Holger Czukay can get an amazing amount of mileage out of a single bass note but he's also quite melodic on this track, very solid, and Jaki, brilliant as always.