(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?
Although Tago Mago was only Can’s second “official” album (the Soundtracks album released after their Monster Movie debut was a rather hastily compiled effort of film work, rather than a proper album), it was without a doubt, the German group’s most intensely experimental and unintentionally groundbreaking one. Recorded at Can’s Inner Space Studios in 1971 – during sessions that have alternately been described as grueling and glorious – this two-LP set was the group’s first album with the freewheelingly abstract Japanese vocalist Damo Suzuki. And, as even a cursory listen will reveal, Suzuki’s improvisatory vocal style meshed perfectly with the rhythmic groove that drummer Jaki Liebezeit and bassist Holger Czukay had been gestating. That, combined with the psychedelic work of guitarist Michael Karoli and keyboardist Irmin Schmidt and a collective willingness to improvise well outside the parameters of “progressive rock” produced what may very well have been the first avant-pop album. Tracks like “Halleluwah” and “Mushroom” somehow manage to be tortuously obscure and gratifyingly catchy at the same time, a feat that few bands have been able to pull off.
Though certainly not an “electronic” album as such, the recording techniques employed by Can for the making of Tago Mago — not to mention the music itself — were wildly influential on purveyors of ambient and experimental electronica. Quite a bit of the music on the album was recorded as “in-between” music: in other words, the tape was left rolling between “takes” unbeknownst to the musicians and the resulting sounds were eventually re-edited together to create new pieces of music (see “Aumgn” for an amazing 17-minute example). Can you say “self-sampling?” Thought so.
However influential their techniques though, it was Can’s spontaneous composition and their extended grooves that have been most imitated. From Stereolab and Tortoise to the Orb, Mu-Ziq and Thievery Corporation, Can’s influence is undeniable. Hell, they were even sampled by This Mortal Coil! And Tago Mago, in all its ineffable glory, is certainly their most complete statement. An absolute necessity.
First appeared February 2000 on CDNow.com.
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