Across five albums and five years Can rendered the categories meaningless and set the bar for the kind of rock future that would make stars out of bands like Radiohead; there’s probably an argument that theirs is still the standard. Like the better so-called “krautrock” bands of the era, Can’s music sounds like little else, and the environment supporting such freedom became a magnet for American and British artists looking to stretch (Keith Jarrett, Brian Eno, David Bowie). But for such a self-styled experimental rock band, Can’s music is as accessible as it is confounding, a beautiful cut-and-paste mess controlled by disciplined musicianship (and editing). Noise, psychedelia, jazz, funk, world, new and no music vie for space in the grooves, battling, more often than not, to equal victory.
By the time Can came to make 1972’s Ege Bamyasi they’d navigated a path through narcotic claustrophobia (Monster Movie‘s V.U.-summoning “Father Cannot Yell,”), cling-clang guitar trance (Soundtracks‘ “Mother Sky”) and long-form boogie freakout (Tago Mago‘s “Halleluwah”) butted up against concrete pieces that, to paraphrase Julian Cope, were guaranteed to clear the room at parties. On Ege Bamyasi they tighten the bolts — at least on record, as live footage from the time shows vocalist Damo Suzuki doing everything to not play along, with varying degrees of success — and come up with an album that contains, in the context of Can’s musical universe, a slew of pop-shaded nuggets. “Spoon” distilled all previous impulses into a succinct 3-minute masterpiece of Suzuki no-sense, Jaki Liebzeit clockwork, and Michael Karoli string-slinging wizardry, with Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt binding it all together.
It’s the perfect mixtape “link” song: rhythmic, catchy, weird. It was a hit in Germany, adopted for a TV thriller and selling hundreds of thousands of copies. Successful bands have named themselves after it. It was and is — attractively to young, arty and ambitious Americans — roundly ignored in the States along with the rest of Can’s stunning catalog. And even unto itself it’s a marvelous thing.
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