Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Can - 'Ege Bamyasi' (Spoon)

I don't remember where I first heard of Can - probably mentioned in some article or interview. I do remember the first time I decided to listen to them, when I was chatting with a coworker. I was sixteen and I had a job working in a library. There was an older music nerd who worked there and I remember asking him what his favourite bands were. He told me that it was probably Pere Ubu (who I had heard of surely, but not listened to) and Can. To which I replied 'The German band?'. Latter that night I went to a Silkworm gig. Anyway I'm digressing again, trying to babble on about my personal history with this music instead of talking about the actual sounds here. Ege Bamyasi is somewhat of a watershed; things weren't quite the same afterwards though I can't quite put my finger on why. This is a much more smooth, fluid record than Tago Mago. 'Pinch', the opener, is languid and bright, though frantic; it's Jaki Liebezeit stretching out and letting everyone else paint broad watercolour strokes over him. 'Sing Swan Song' is simultaneously ballad and minimalist heartpulse. Czukay's bass is brutal and pummeling despite the soft edges, and Suzuki takes us to a new a place with his emoting. 'One More Night' I can't disassociate these days from the loop that appears as the backing track to a few Joe Frank radio shows, during which you can really focus/obsess on it's disjointed rhythm. I'd like to say that this is a dub approach again, built upon a long jammy riff with most of the changes coming from elements coming in and out - 70's cop guitar, cymbals, Damo's voice, etc. It's three tracks in before you realise that this is a new poppy side of Can, no doubt motivated by the hit of 'Spoon', which is tacked on here as the final track. 'Vitamin C' takes us back to the kinetic repetitive funk of 'Hallelujah', though condensed into three minutes and even more open of a songform. There's enough room here for Damo to get quite lyrical, and while his experimentation on Tago Mago is unparalleled here, by this point it really feels like the man is finding a new voice. It's a Can jam for a mixtape, though it ends prematurely. I always swore it was a lot longer. Irmin brings in a somewhat liturgical organ solo near the end, but this is the church of psychological warfare. And there's a segue into 'Soup', the most 'out' track of Ege Bamyasi. This is a tick-tock Jeopardy game, with harshly squealing white noise and electric piano bumps, all somehow kept contained while constantly threatening to rip itself apart. It's a rocker until it breaks into a more freeform section, sounding almost EXACTLY like an Area record. Damo is even affecting some Italianness (Dago Suzumi? I couldn't resist, sorry), all gutturals, sputterings, and rolled consonants. Irmin is going far more synthy than the soft organs we heard on the earlier tracks, and once again (like the end of 'Aumgn') we have Jaki pushed to the forefront. But it doesn't outstay its welcome (not to imply that 'Aumgn' does!) and quickly takes us to the two pop tunes, 'I'm So Green' and 'Spoon'. The former is an edgy jazz-rocker built around a nice Liebezeit/Czukay shuffle and some arpeggiated jangle. It sets a mood quite similar to what the band did with Mooney, though again with a syncopation they could have only dreamed about in 1968. By the end of it's economical three minutes, we've reached something chaotically psychedelic that I'm still not sure how to read. And 'Spoon' was the tune for a cop show, or something like that. Fair enough, cause it's properly suspenseful, built around an ethereal pop hook, laden in reverb and with haunting background vocals. Hit songs are nothing to be ashamed of, and this maybe manages to capture Can at their peak in just three minutes. I know it lacks the long-form workouts, synth/vocal diversions or instrumental freakouts but there's still something to be said for it. The sense of spacyness - not like Hawkwind, but like Alvin Lucier - is there, despite being a fairly busy arrangement, and while no musician really gets to go for it, there's the sense of collective brainmeld that could only happen when a brilliant band reachers their peak.

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