03 July 2007

Can - 1970 - Soundtracks

Quality: 4 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5

Although this is Can's second LP release, they were adamant that this was not their second album. We can take the title Soundtracks seriously as keyboardist Irmin Schmidt had several buddies in the avant garde German film community and these tracks once adorned movies that now seem to have been lost to the mists of time. Therefore we'll look at Soundtracks as a compilation which is good as there's not much coherance here as an album. Like many compilations, there are a few duff songs present, but we also hear the first full flowering of Can's genius.

In fact, let's get straight to "Mother Sky," which is a 14 minute track of Can at their absolute best. Somehow it always seems much shorter when I listen to it. As a song, this one should get more that a 5 on the quality meter. The track starts as if in the middle of a full-out acid rock jam with Schmidt and guitarist Michael Karoli wailing away on their respective instruments. With a cymbal crash a few minutes in, the song suddenly collapses to the essence: the robotic rhythm of bassist Holger Czukay and Jaki Leibezeit. It's about as dramatic a moment as you'll find in rock music. From there, the band technically goes into a series of solos, although that's a misleading word to describe what they do. It's more of a layering of sound as there's no sense of ego from the musicians, but rather playing as one. This isn't to say that their playing isn't phenomenal as Leibezeit in particular seems to defy all reason polyrhythmically drumming while also maintaining the pulse of the song. It's even more amazing when you consider that Can recorded to two-track tape until 1975 (that means maybe one overdub), although they did some judicious editing of their jams.

The secret weapon here is Can's newly arrived singer, the Japanese ex-pat Damo Suzuki. He's not that impressive technically, mumbling his lyrics in a weird mix of English, Japanese, and gibberish, but he does seem to serve as a catalyst for the band. He somehow sings with no sense of ego, humanizing the rest of the band, yet allowing them to let the muse take them wherever it needs to. "Mother Sky" can rest on it's mechanisized groove because Suzuki gives the song heart. Can with Damo is several notches above Can without, despite the instrumentalists' skill and talent for ceaseless exploration.

Suzuki is also present on the tracks recorded for two of the three tracks the band recorded for a film called "Deadlock." They lead of the album and give supple hint to the majesty of Can Mark II. "Tango Whiskeyman" in particular has awesome rhythms that again show Leibezeit at his best. Suzuki is also present for a lesser but still enjoyable track called "Don't Turn The Light On, Leave Me Alone."

Suzuki replaced Malcolm Mooney after Mooney allegedly became stuck muttering "upstairs, downstairs" on stage ad infinitum. Two tracks here date from the Mooney era of the band. "Sould Desert" pales in comparison with everything else here with a lazy groove and Mooney singing on the more unlistenable end of the spectrum. Better is the jazzy "She Brings The Rain," although if Can continued pointless stylistic exercises like this I doubt they ever would have obtained the classic status they enjoy. If fact, they returned to this kind of exercise several years later when Suzuki departed, so I guess that's another example of Damo as Can's catalyst.

Soundtracks is a little too disjointed to be a great Can album, but the mere presence of the full "Mother Sky" makes it absolutely indispensible. If you want to know Can, then you need this.

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Can - 1970 - Soundtracks


Sandeep Atwal said...

Couldn't agree more...Mother Sky might just be The Best Rock Song Ever.

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