June 23, 2012

Playlist Week of 6-23-12

Can - The Lost Tapes

* Corelli: Trio Sonatas (English Concert/Pinnock, et al.) (Archiv Produktion CD)
* Geminiani: Concerti Grossi (After Corelli, Op.5) (AAM/Manze) (d.1) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Geminiani: Cello Sonatas, Op.5 (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics CD)
* Venice Baroque Orchestra (Marcon/Carmignola): Concerto Veneziano (Archiv Produktion CD)
* Venice Baroque Orchestra (Marcon/Carmignola): Concerto Italiano (Archiv Produktion CD)
* Stravinsky: Piano Works (Sangiorgio) (Collins Classics CD)
* Sun Ra: Empty Foxhole Café, Philadelphia, PA 4-29-77 (AUD 2CDR)
* Sun Ra: Solo Piano, Volume 1 (Improvising Artists, Inc. CD)
* Sun Ra: St. Louis Blues: Solo Piano, Volume 2 (Improvising Artists, Inc. CD)
* Sun Ra: WKCR Studios, Philadelphia, PA 7-08-77 (FM CDR)
* Anthony Braxton Septet +1: GTM (Iridium) 2007 Vol.2 Set 1 (New Braxton House FLAC>CDR)
* Mary Halvorson Quintet: Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12 CD)
* Mary Halvorson Quintet: Bending Bridges (Firehouse 12 CD)
* Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up: The Air Is Different (482 Music CD)
* Earl Klugh: Finger Paintings (Blue Note/Mobile Fidelity LP)
* George Benson: Weekend In L.A. (Warner Bros. 2LP)
* Elixer: Hegalian Zone (ION CD)†/‡
* Sly & The Family Stone: There’s A Riot Going On (Epic/Sundazed LP
* Sly & The Family Stone: Fresh (Epic/Sundazed LP)
* Grateful Dead: Memorial Coliseum, Portland, OR 5-19-74 (selections) (SBD 3CDR)
* The Band: Music From Big Pink (Capitol/Mobile Fidelity LP)
* Deep Purple: Machine Head (Warner Bros. LP)
* Can: Ege Bamyasi (Spoon/Mute SACD)
* Can: Future Days (Spoon/Mute SACD)
* Can: The Lost Tapes 1968-1975 (Spoon/Mute 3CD)
* Can: Canobits (d.1-3) (SBD/boot 4CDR)
* My Bloody Valentine: EP’s 1988-1991 (d.1) (Sony 2CD)†/‡
* Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino 2LP)
* Akron/Family: Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free (Dead Oceans 2LP)
* Anathema: We’re Here Because We’re Here (KScope CD/DVD)†
* Anathema: Weather Systems (The End 2LP/CD)(†)
* Mike Scheidt: Stay Awake (Thrill Jockey LP)
* White Hills: H-p1 (Thrill Jockey CD)(†)
* White Hills: Frying On This Rock (Thrill Jockey LP)
* Pelican: What We All Come To Need (Southern Lord CD)(†/‡)
* Pelican: Ataraxia/Taraxis (Southern Lord EP)
* Astra: The Black Chord (Rise Above/Metal Blade CD)(†/‡)



The German band, Can, has always been one of those bands that more people have heard of than actually heard. Like the old bon mot about the Velvet Underground, not many people bought Can’s records at the time of their release but every one of them formed their own band. Their influence has been pervasive since the 1970s and can be heard in everything from Miles Davis’s On The Corner-era recordings to New Wave and punk rock bands like the Talking Heads, the Fall, Sonic Youth, et al.—not to mention the whole ambient/electronica scene and its offshoots. Then there are the so-called “post-rock” bands like Radiohead, Tortoise, Animal Collective and their ilk, who obviously spent a lot of time studying Can’s classic albums during their formative years. Can were “post-rock” long before anyone coined the term and those records sound as fresh today as they did back in the ‘70s—the problem has always been trying to find them. Poorly served during the nascent CD-era, it wasn’t until the definitive SACD remasters of 2004-2006 that their catalog has been widely available—and now, with the release of The Lost Tapes 1968-1975, a truly complete picture of the Can’s music and methodology can be discerned.

Founding members, keyboardist Irmin Schmidt and bassist Holger Czukay, were former students of ultra-modernist composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and deeply immersed in the avant-garde classical world centered in Darmstadt, West Germany—but the burgeoning rock, funk and free-jazz scenes of the late-60s “corrupted” them; in a 2004 interview, Schmidt stated: 
I wanted to do something in which all contemporary music becomes one thing. Contemporary music in Europe especially, the new music was classical music, was Boulez, Stockhausen and all that. I studied all that, I studied Stockhausen but nobody talked about rock music like Sly Stone, James Brown or the Velvet Underground as being contemporary music. Then there was jazz and all these elements were our contemporary music, it was new. It was, in a way, much newer than the new classical music which claimed to be 'the new music’ (quoted (with broken link) on Wikipedia). 
With the addition of out-jazz drummer Jaki Liebezeit and Czukay’s 19-year-old student, Michael Karoli on guitar, the band (originally called Inner Space) enlisted their friend, Malcolm Mooney, as vocalist. Mooney  an African-American sculptor then living in Munich, immediately suggested changing their name to The Can (later shorted to just Can) and together they set about recording material for their first album.  Mooney was prolifically creative but mentally unstable—at times dangerously confrontational—and his paranoiac rantings defined their early, Velvet Underground-meets-James Brown aesthetic. But after experiencing a complete nervous breakdown in late-1969, Mooney returned to the United States at the advice of his psychiatrist and was replaced by Damo Suzuki, a Japanese musician Czukay and Liebezeit found busking outside a local café. It was with Suzuki that Can would refine their polyglot musical style and record their most highly revered albums, Tago Mago (1971), Ege Bamyasi (1972) and Future Days (1973). After Suzuki’s abrupt departure to marry his girlfriend (and become a Jehovah’s Witness), Can soldiered on as quartet with Karoli and Schmidt assuming vocal duties. Their subsequent albums were inconsistent but Can continued to be a formidable live band, even as Czukay started drifting away, gradually replaced by former Traffic band-members Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah on bass and percussion. The band finally called it quits in 1979, only to reunite with Mooney and Czukay for a disco-infused album (Rite Time) and a few concerts in 1989. In the meantime, Can’s reputation as a genre-defining band has only continued to grow.

Eschewing conventional song structures, Can’s music was built up out of hours of improvisation and rudimentary overdubbing—amazingly, their classic albums were made without the benefit of modern multitrack technology, relying instead on a pair of humble 2-track stereo reel-to-reel machines and “bouncing” tracks into order to make room for additional overdubs. These recordings were then meticulously edited together (using a razor blade and splicing tape) to compile the finished song, a collage technique borrowed from Stockhausen’s electronic music and musique concrète. Propelled by Liebezeits’s powerfully motoric drumming, Can’s music could be both dreamily hypnotic and teeth-grindingly intense at the same time. Mooney tended to worriedly repeat a phrase to scarily absurd lengths while the more ethereal Suzuki would croon, shout or whisper, the mostly unintelligible, multilingual lyrics subsumed into the overall sound-world. In concert, the band pursued “spontaneous compositions,” long, spacey jams that would occasionally yield to familiar songs and riffs, only to erupt into bouts of ferociously skronky noise. But forget about verse-chorus-verse structures—this wildly experimental music is all about texture. No wonder the band never had any hit records! But they did find some financial success scoring soundtracks for film and television, a couple of which scraped the bottom of the charts in their native country.

Given their unorthodox working methods (and a penchant for recording every gig), many reels of tape were accumulated during the course of their career and much speculation about their contents has ensued over the years, fueled by a series of bootleg releases purportedly sourced directly from the Can archives. Aside from Unlimited Edition, a double-LP compilation of outtakes and rarities released in 1976 and Delay 1968, their posthumous, previously unreleased first album (originally titled, Prepared To Meet Thy Pnoom), not much has seen the light of day. In 1999, the super-limited edition Can Box was released, containing two DVDs, two live CDs and a book—but it is now way out of print and impossible to find. The DVDs, however, were reissued in 2004 (as The Can DVD) and is still available (and highly recommended). It seemed that was the end of it until 2007, when the contents of Can’s studio in Cologne were transferred to the Rock ‘n’ Pop Museum in Gronau—all except for the tapes, which were moved to the basement of Schmidt’s flat in Cologne. At the prompting of his son-in-law, producer Jono Podmore, the reluctant Schmidt was finally convinced to sort through it all. “This archive was a travesty of archival organization,” says Schmidt in his liner notes to The Lost Tapes: 
We always recorded everything. But in the early years we didn’t have money to buy so many new tapes, so we would often re-record over them, months and sometimes years later. We would keep the bits that we considered worth keeping and recorded over the rest. Thereby we ended up with lots of isolated fragments from different periods. Not easy to make sense of and find chronological connections within this mess. 
In February 2009, the tapes were taken to Sonopress in Gutersloh where they were cleaned, restored and transferred to the digital domain, a process that took over a year to complete, yielding about fifty hours of music. Of this, three CDs worth were edited and compiled, with deliberations between Schmidt and Podmore about the track list and running order continuing up until the final mastering in February 2012. Finally released on June 19, The Lost Tapes is a treasure trove of spectacular, previously unreleased Can music from the peak period of their career.

Packaged in a nifty ten-inch square container made to look like an old reel-to-reel tape box, The Lost Tapes boasts not only seven unheard studio tracks with Mooney (and eight with Suzuki), but a bunch of film soundtracks, some cool ambient instrumentals and five incendiary live recordings from 1972-75. Some of the material shows the genesis and development of such classic tracks as “Mother Sky,” “Vitamin C,” and “Spoon,” offering a fascinating glimpse into their working methods in the studio. Interestingly, some of these songs began as film soundtracks which were later reconfigured for later albums. Ultimately, The Lost Tapes will probably only appeal to the hardcore Can freak—but that shouldn’t stop the merely curious from picking it up. Sure, their seminal albums are essential; but unlike most archival releases, The Lost Tapes wouldn’t be a bad place to begin for a newbie—it’s just that good! 

TheSpectator once wrote about Can in 1973: “If you consider yourself in any sense involved with modern music, you cannot overlook them”—and that statement is a true today as it was back then. The Lost Tapes is a crucial document of one of rock music’s most visionary and influential bands and should not be missed. The sticker on the shrink wrap says, “limited edition”—I don’t know what that means exactly, but I’d recommend grabbing it before it disappears for good. Over three hours of primo Can plus a lavishly illustrated book all for less than thirty bucks—heck, you can hardly go wrong!

1 comment:

Sam said...

Thanks for the great summary of Can!

Here are my lists from last week:

Playlist 2012-06-25:

*Boris Bobby Jr.: 2012-06-12 Ghost Print Gallery, Richmond VA (wav)
*Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Wilhemshaven) 1979 Part 1 (BL015)
*Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Wilhemshaven) 1979 Part 2 (BL016)
*John Coltrane: Live in Japan “Peace on Earth”
*John Coltrane: Expression
*Eric Dolphy: Out There
*Latin Jazz Quintet & Eric Dolphy: Caribe
*New Loft: 2012-04-30 “Making Me Drink” (wav)
*Positive Catastrophe: 2010-05-09 Le Mans, France (CDR)
*Tom Rainey Trio: Camino Cielo Echo
*Sun Ra: 1977-04-17 Smuckers, NYC (CDR)
*Sun Ra: 1979-08-14 Squat Theater, NYC (CDR)
*Henry Threadgill & Zooid: 2010-05-04 Rome (CDR)
*UYA: Upstanding Young Americans
*Weather Report: I Sing the Body Electric
*Aretha Franklin: Soul Sister: The Classic Aretha Franklin
*Grateful Dead: Dark Star: Europe ’72 Olympia Theatre – Paris, France 5/4/72 (Record Store Day LP)
*Guided By Voices: Class Clown Spots a UFO
*Hatfield and the North: Hatwise Choice
*Hatfield and the North: Hattitude
*Yani Martinelli: Bubble Station
*Spring: Spring
*Kelley Stoltz: Circular Sounds
*White Stripes: 2005-06-24 Glastonbury Festival, UK (CDR)
*Robert Wyatt: EPs (discs 1, 5)
*Yes: Tales From Topographic Oceans (side 4)

Reading List 2012-06-25:

*Roth, Philip. Sabbath’s Theater (started)
*Erikson, Steven. Blood Follows (started/finished)
*Erikson, Steven. The Lees of Laughter’s End (started/finished)
*Erikson, Steve. The healthy Dead (started/finished)
*Johnson, Jimmy. Beaucoup Arlo and Janis (started/finished)
*Norman, Philip. John Lennon: The Life (finished)
*Kiberd, Declan. Ulysses and Us (in progress)