Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Can - 'Delay 1968' (Spoon)

An essential part of the four-year college experience, for me at least, was sitting around with my friends listening to Can records and dreaming of changing the universe through sound. Actually when going through this project I'm starting to realise how much of what I'm listening to takes me back to those four years, or the time period immediately after them. It's true that I barely even hear these Can records for being records anymore, since I've heard them so much they're become 'classic rock' to me. But listening now, with the explicit goal of typing something right here for you to read, I tend to come across things I forgot (example: the kazoo playing at the end of 'Man Named Joe' while Jaki Liebezeit is kicking a high school talent show drum solo). I got rid of all of my Beatles records about 8 years ago when I realised that there was no point to owning them, since I could just turn on the radio if I wanted to hear the Beatles. I almost feel that way about Can, though of course no radio station will play Can with the ubiquity that they deserve - -but I suppose I could look on YouTube quite readily to hear (and see!) all the Can I could want in a single dosage. The reason I feel like it would be okay to get rid of my Can records is not that I don't love them, but because they are such an iconic entry in the canon of music that I almost feel like my time could be spent listening to something else. And I realise I'm not explaining that very well, which is well enough since I'm definitely not going to get rid of these records. I'm not sure where to file Delay 1968, since it came out in 1981 but clearly pre-dates Monster Movie. This is such a fun record to listen to, cause it's Can as basement-punk pounders, with no real trace of the textural genius they would get into later. Instead we get distorted guitar riffs, Doors-on-more-acid organ layers, and lots and lots of Malcolm Mooney. 1968 was a hell of a year - romanticised endlessly in the history of rock music, and certainly one responsible for some barnstormers, but this feels like it's coming from another planet. The rhythm section is already established here, filling the disc with that 'Can' sound. Liebezeit's jazz background is held in check in favour of minimal monotonous pounding, with subtle polyrhthymic inflections between the beats -- but nothing to steal the spotlight or take away from the unity of the group! I believe that 'Uphill' and 'Little Star of Bethlehem' definitely rank with the greatest Can songs ever, as perfect samplers of the pre-Damo sound. 'Uphill' is exploratory and horizontal, with band members coming in and out with different layers, solos and stabs. It resembles the opening cut, 'Butterfly', in these aspects, but turbocharged with more oomph (and with that weird ending I guess is a studio accident/error)? 'Little Star' is certainly Mooney's show, with his exemplary lyrical gift being displayed in the most extemporaneous of fashions. But this is also a masterpiece of Michael Karoli's guitar work. It's subtle, and well-crafted, but also thrilling and cutthroat while somehow being the same song. There's not a bad track on this record though. 'Pnoom' is the head-scratcher, but not for long at 26 seconds, and it looks forward to Tago Mago. 'Thief' is a ballad of sort, with Mooney's denial/plea sounding nearly convincing and properly desperate. The story goes that Delay 1968 was shelved so they could make something more commercial, but they made Monster Movie instead, which sounds equally weird to me. Delay 1968 is about as 'classic' as a posthumously released album can be, but since it's actually beginning, we can hear the sounds of genesis. Which can be just as wonderful as the sounds of apocalypse.

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