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on 9 March 2013
Can - The Lost Tapes box set

In the late 1960's, that wild and pre-digital era, something happened in Cologne, Germany. Some musicians with a background in experimental jazz and Stockhausen came together. On keyboards was Irmin Schmidt, a trained conductor of classical music. Their heads had been turned by hearing the Velvet Underground. The inclusion of Malcolm Mooney an American artist with a gift for improvised singing and Michael Karoli who was every inch a rock guitarist sealed the deal. Named Can, their first album `Monster Movie' in 1968 saw them pick up the trail from the Velvet Underground's extended jam `Sister Ray'. With the strong rhythm laid down by Jaki Leibezeit on drums and Holger Czukay on bass the transition into rock music was total and fascinating.
The group's next phase began when Japanese singer Damo Suzuki filled the gap left by Malcolm's departure. The albums with Damo (who still regularly performs unmissable improvised gigs with pick up musos around the globe) were totemic, and had a sound and sense of experiment that was all their own. `Tago Mago' had a sound that was both daring and beautiful. It was followed by `Soundtracks', `Ege Bamyasi' and `Future Days', mesmerising stuff.
Damo departed, though I saw his last gig with them in Edinburgh in 1973. They continued to record and tour as a mainly instrumental unit, with `Soon Over Babaluma' and `Landed' being the albums I most cherish from that period. The individual development of the musicians led them into solo projects, and after a decade of fruitful music Can was no more. Except for the legacy they had left in unreleased material.
The fascination exerted on their loyal following and subsequent generations has meant them being referred to so often as `legendary' and that honour was earned by them on so many different levels. They were trailblazers, and the vast amount of recording done in their home made studios during the Can decade had emerged on albums such as `Limited Edition' and `Delay 1968'.
I was therefore incredulous to find this 5 L.P./ 3 c.d. set of more unreleased material from every phase of the group's development. Listening to `The Lost Tapes' I can only begin to imagine how ecstatic this release has made any fan of Can. It is just stunning that so much quality material as gone unreleased over the years.
I won't attempt to give my reactions to each and every jewel included in this set, but there's not much on this 30 track album that is not aural heaven for me. The rock jams are potent, Malcolm's contributions are right on the money, and the stratospheric sound they developed with Damo and after are well represented. Some well chosen material from gigs (gigs were always improvisational) also sits neatly in this set. Great to sit back and hear all this wonderful music from the vaults. The Lost and FOUND Tapes.
As a footnote I will recommend to you Nick Kent's review of the `Soon Over Babuluma' album which appeared in the mid-70's in the NME. While others struggled to describe Can's sound, Kent did the job without the need to be sycophantic. Nice one, Nick.
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on 18 June 2012
Been a while, hasn't it? Originally conceived way back in 2008, it was a few years after that, in early 2011 that the box set was announced. Delay after delay happened, but finally, well over half a year later than planned, we have it. So, was all this excitement worth it, or does this box set consist of sonic barrel scrapings from the bands long forgotten jams? Well, if Can keyboardist Irmin Schmidt hadn't have had anything to do with it, it might well have done. He remembers that "We always had tapes running, but 10 years' tapes running all the time 12 hours a day would come to an unimaginably big pile...But perhaps a tape would have 10 minutes on it that we thought were good. So there were little snippets and bits and pieces of all kinds from different periods on one tape... chaos." By the sounds of it then, with fifty hours of tapes, had they given in to that money-spinning temptation of releasing multiple volumes, each could have been of a very dodgy quality. Thankfully, this won't be the case. "This is the final extract from the archive. More, there isn't. There are another 47 hours not worth releasing, which will definitely disappear." Schmidt stated, in one sentence, crushing any further speculation.

The set's twenty six pounds asking price seems reasonable, given that you get three discs, three hours of music, a rather sumptuous 10" box and a 28 page booklet. It doesn't disappoint musically either. Starting proceedings is Millionspiel, a trippy rocker locked in Can's trademark percussion-led groove. "Obviously the tapes weren't really lost, but were left in the cupboards of the studio archives for so long everybody just forgot about them." Schmidt's sleeve notes explain, and even after listening to the album for a few minutes you start to wonder why they hadn't dug out the tapes earlier. The Malcolm Mooney led classics-in-the-making Are You Waiting for the Streetcar and Deadly Doris both feel like they could have been contenders for inclusion in 1976's archive comp Unlimited Edition. It's an impressively diverse album, too. Though there's the normal Can fare of tribal deep-funk grooves and some mega jamming, there's also darkly ambient sound collages reminiscent of their disturbing masterpiece Amung or one of fellow noise god's Faust's trippiest moments. Blind Mirror Surf even sounds like an early unreleased Mothers of Invention sound collage. As disc one goes, special mentions should go to the awesome seventeen minute jam Graublau, which rips up chunks of different jams, stitches them back together and leaves the listener to revel in the chaotic brilliance, and also the sinister When Darkness Comes, another example of Mooney's great improvisation.

Discs two is equally brilliant - the early portion of disc two continues where the first left off, with plenty more Mooney material. There's also plenty material from the classic Damo Suzuki era. Disc three comprises of later material, and although their albums did waver in quality when Suzuki left in 73, even the post Soon Over Babaluma material here is rather good. Admittedly at points, disc three is rather weaker than the first two discs - without any vocals to hold things together; the lengthy live tracks (of which there are quite a number) feel chaotic and less focused than they surely would otherwise. However, it never descends into being unlistenable, and is always quite enjoyable - although you do start to wonder why you're listening to this when you could be hearing Tago Mago. There are some gems on disc three, though. Messer, Scissors, Fork and Light is brilliant, Alice shows them at their drugged out mellowest, not dissimilar to Unlimited Edition's Ghommorha in sound, whilst the outstanding live version of Mushroom (which actually appears on the superb bootleg album Horrortrip in the Paperhouse, although here the sound quality is vastly better and it is correctly named 'Mushroom',rather than Paperhouse as it was called on the the bootleg) couldn't be more different from the studio version if it tried, and is even better for it. So then, not only is the album itself (for the most part) brilliant, but I feel that the decision to make the album roughly chronological (One or two tracks skip ahead a few years, but they never feel out of place) adds to the album, and balance between Mooney and Suzuki material is excellent, both having a roughly equal amount of songs, with plenty of instrumentals in between. Basically then, those who value good music need to own a Can album - they're massively influential, and really changed the musical rule book, and given the broad array of eras this covers and the quality of the material, this is an essential purchase for long time fans, and also a worthy introduction to newcomers alike, although the easier option for those looking to fill their heads with Can may be to just buy Tago Mago, which has just recently been reissued in a 40th anniversary edition, and work your way from there.
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on 15 May 2016
I'm listening to it at the moment and it sounds very good to me. Enough to get my old early Can records down from the loft and play them. Excellent value as well
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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.
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on 24 August 2015
Great musical material not just for CAN fans. I was delighted by the audio quality of "the tapes" and also for the care in preserving/transposing it on this 3CDs set. It sounds very good, dynamic and ... fresh :-) Great work, highly recommended !!
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on 27 September 2014
Now a couple of years have gone by it's much easier to get a grip on this sprawling 3 cd collection. All the people that reviewed it after 5 minutes and gave it 'average' 3/5 marks.... it was a bit daft to do that. I've been listening to this set a lot lately and all of it is pretty incredible. Even some of the looser tracks, the fragments and the embryonic birth of well known pieces... all sound fantastic to me.... 2 years on.
Can were certainly at their best when tempered by the razor blade of the ever watchful Holger who knew how to create concise almost-pop out of sprawling jams. There will be no more moments like Spoon, Vitamin C, Moonshake or Sing Swan Song again as bands just don't work like that anymore. Even Can after the golden years 69-74 started multi-tracking and therefore losing the special telepathic chemistry between the musicians.
So - not for Can beginners certainly. But for fanatics, the curious, the students and the collectors this set is a 'must'.
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on 1 January 2013
I got this box set for Christmas - and have found it very good indeed. I had expected more unstructured outtakes, but the editting has left us with a more or less coherent set of tracks. The live version of Spoon (on cd2) is one of the best tracks, with it and the other live material capturing the the improvised nature of Can live. If you can, listen to this 3cd set alongside the 4 cd 'semi-offical' Canobits collection. This fills in some gaps in the recording history.
I will be in a minority it wanting to hear more archive stuff from the period after Damo. I just think this period was very creative in their live work with very extended improvisations.
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on 22 June 2012
Given the dreadful quality of the Tago Mago 2CD release, this is a wonderful surprise whose sound quality is indistinguishable from modern day releases.

For me, I would have liked to have more live tracks, but maybe there is more to come and all the material is great, with one tiny highlight being the Dead Pigeon Suite, which is a stitching together of many different takes on Vitamin C and adds a lot to the original.

The only tiny compalint, for which it would be churlish to deduct a star, is the awful packaging which does not retain the CDs properly that were rattling free in the box when received from Amazon.

Buy with confidence and hope for more !!
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on 14 December 2016
Good item
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on 14 September 2017
On 'Waiting for the streetcar', Malcolm Mooney says the line 'Are you waiting for the streetcar?', with some slight variations, 170 times. There is nothing interesting about either the line itself or the ways in which he repeats it. If this kind of timewasting is what thrills you, then you'll love 'The lost tapes'. As the booklet reveals, the Can tapes weren't 'lost' at all. They were merely unreleased. Most of this 3CD shows why. You have been warned.

There are variations in the artwork on some copies. This is because the ever-mediocre Julian House scrawled '1968–1975' on his cover design. The recordings actually end in 1977. Sloppy work by a sloppy designer, and sloppy of Mute and Spoon not to notice. Still, this is very sloppy music, sloppily performed, so it's all of a piece.
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