on 5 March 2017
Vectoring in from Quadrant Nine, somewhere near Betelgeuse, there’s an echo, then banging over a bouncing rhythm made seemingly of skittering mice like creatures as Michael Karoli, Can’s multi-instrumentalist, goes surfbound. The mice like creatures run faster and a flute tries to take flight, before silence breaks out. What at first sounds like the bizarre soundtrack to a German sci fi film, filmed in Honolulu on a budget of mad drugs and squonkophone, turns out to be a track called ‘Millionenspiel’ which opens this magnificently confusing three CD box of madness by the influential krautrockers.
It’s the late sixties and Can are more madder than Stockhausen meets Gerry and the Pacemakers, they’ve only been together ten minutes and already they’ve changed the world. These studio, and occasional live recordings have been extricated from the cobweb covered Can vaults and coated with love by keyboardist Irmin Schmidt. They are utterly astounding in their brutality, sense of exploration and magical musical experimentation.
Second track on disc two ‘Are you waiting for the streetcar’ is a jam in a cul de sac of temporal repetition, repeat ad infinitum, and a bit longer. You can go with it or skip with a migraine, I go with it and come out after ten minutes with new found understanding of mental illness. Third track ‘Evening all day’ is arsing about in the studio, as a horse breaks its tether, the band are looking at each other waiting for something to happen, clippety-clop clippety-clop follows, and nothing happens, apart that is from them inventing jazz reggae.
Next up is ‘Deadly Doris’, who turns out to be deadly for 3.09 minutes of audio rocket fuel that attains orbit via vocalist Malcolm Mooney’s mantra and Jaki Liebezeit’s superhuman drumming. Doris is sexy, she’s also deadly, and the result? Can invent punk rock in 1968.
A more structured rock ‘n’ dirty roll, fuzzed up manna from Deutschland is a sixteen minute freak out called ‘Graublau’. It’s 1969 and men are on the moon, Can are well, not anywhere, in the world we know. In your head, perhaps? A figment of Sgt Pepper ? Who knows ? They seem to exist outside of time, Graublau’ begins to disintegrate at four minutes, then comes back as Dinosaur Jnr, 20 years before Dinosaur Jnr are born. Someone turns on a sonic splatter machine and we’re covered in love vibrations and Dalek guitar ago-go. There’s a tune in there Jim, but we’re not gonna let it out, as the disembodied voices, all machine warped and crazy, interlude, shout, off into that dark night, again, but this time with added Aphex Twinisms and short wave radio flutter from an orbiting alien spacecraft offering sixteen minutes of pure Can. I can’t take any more.
This reviewer takes a drink, surfaces, into ‘When darkness comes’ (1969), featuring mild feedback and conjuring images of when dinosaurs walk the earth. You can almost hear them in the background as Mooney free associates and frightens my cat. I don’t know what is happening, I’m frightened, quick get me Gerry and the Pacemakers to calm me down. ‘Blind mirror surf’ and ‘Oscura Primavera’ date from 68, like soundtracks to Hungarian cartoons about demented woodcutters, all drone and WTF was that?
Shoot into 1972 with ‘Bubble rap’, proto grunge guitar riff and Damo Suziki taking the mic along with some seismic cosmic funk as Karolis’s guitar probes the wasted body of Sly Stone. Damo sounds like he’s surfing on a lava flow of great acid as he dissolves into the universal enfolding light of God.
The chemistry of Can has been written about, conjectured upon and dissected for years, I can’t possibly add anything to what has been said, (but i’ll try anyway), even though all you need to know is all there in the music. Take ‘Your friendly local neighbourhood whore’, the shifting rhythmic structure is so ethereal with Holgars Czukays bass meshing perfectly with Jakis’s busy drumming to form this seamless, cohesive pattern which is so hypnotic and is the sound that makes Can’s fourth studio album Ege Bamyasi so revered.
Ok, back to disc two, seat belts on and to ‘Midnight sky’ from 68, which is like The Doors but without the leather trousers. You’ll know ‘Spoon’ , but here is a 17 minute live version of very, very large proportions that grows and grows into a mushroom the size of Manhattan.
Two other pieces take pride of place here, ‘Dead pigeon suite’ and ‘Abra cada braxas’, both clocking in at the ten minute mark, the former contains very few dead pigeons, but plenty of strangely percussive serenity; no jarring of the senses on this one, just a gentle ride on a horse made of morphine and bass strings. ‘Braxas’ is a swooping eagle about to die on the slopes of Mount Doom. It’s incredible, and it’s only 1973. ‘A swan is born’ is a mere snippet of what later became Swansong, ‘The loop’ sounds like Status Quo playing skiffle inside an Asda bag.
Disc three goes from 1970 to 77, it’s got a nine minute live version of ‘Mushroom’ on it, there’s a jam that gave birth to ‘Mother sky’, a stupendous instrumental workout ‘Midnight men’, that sounds like Joe Meek channeling a passing comet and ‘Networks of foam’ is the sound of an anal probe accidentally going into God’s eye.
As for ‘Barnacles’ (1977) it’s just the best thing I’ve heard this year, it goes plonk plonk plonk, but in the most beautiful way you can imagine. You’ll not be surprised that it’s also got some drums on it. Basically, there’s more throbbing Krautrock here than you can shake a stick at.
What’s more you’ve got extensive liner notes and photos on top of three hours of unheard Can. You won’t like all of it, but tough, I do.