Can: The Lost Tapes review

(9 out of 10)

Forget, for a moment, the circumstances that brought The Lost Tapes into existence. Forget the execrable history that most important bands have when it comes to archival releases. Forget, if it’s possible, that Can hasn’t released any new music since 1989’s middling Rite Time. Forget those things and ask yourself: If you could go out and buy a new Can album today, what would you want it to sound like?

The answer, in short, is The Lost Tapes.

Rather than approaching this material as the initial results of what one hopes will be a long-term archival project, the members of Can have taken this previously unreleased material that they’ve found (quite accidentally, it should be noted) in their archives and crafted a limited-edition three-CD set that not only functions quite well as a “new” Can album, but also succeeds incredibly in that role. Yes, the tapes were dug up when the group’s studio was being moved into a German museum (which … weird and awesome, right?) and yes, there’s a blend of snippets, extended jams, live tracks, and not-quite-coalesced ideas that spans the group’s entire 20-year history as an active concern. So, for Can completists and super-fans, this is a big deal, cracking open a treasure chest of riches that provides considerable new perspective on the band’s processes and progress through the years.

But what if you’re a casual Can fan or an utter novice when it comes to the band? Most folks would warn you off a release such as this, but I think thatThe Lost Tapes is a perfect introduction to Can’s unique universe. The collision of psychedelia, charging krautrock percussion, avant-garde daring, and general sense of experimental freedom that permeates The Lost Tapes is the very definition of what’s made Can such an important band. You can dip into songs ranging from minute-long idea kernels to quarter-hour monsters that choogle along with a ferocity and focus that’s both primal and smart. Unbound by the constraints imposed by whatever the band’s lineup was at any given time, this collection is an inverse “greatest hits” that gets to the very heart of Can’s unusual excellence. It’s sometimes scary (the weird textures of “Evening All Day”) and it’s often frustrating (the sliver-of-a-song that is “Godzilla Fragment”), but it’s mostly amazing and it’s ironically the easiest way to assess the group’s long and varied history.

DOWNLOAD: “Midnight Men,” “Desert”

First appeared July 13, 2012 in Blurt.

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