#454: Ege Bamyasi, Can
Can sounds like a jazz quartet crashed into the Velvet Underground’s van and then they all got married. Can was so ahead of their time that no record company was brave enough to release their debut, titled Prepare To Meet Thy Pnoom, and they had to record something more commercial. (Don’t worry, though, they eventually released it … over a decade later.) This is their third official album and the one that finally broke Can open, after their single “Spoon” was used as the theme song of a German mini-series. That song, which uses both a drum machine and real drums, gave them enough money to host a concert and move to a better studio, where they recorded this record. (Also fun fact, this is where the band Spoon got its name.)
Can was started by keyboardist Irmin Schmidt, who enlisted four people, including American singer Malcolm Mooney, to help realize his vision of weirdo avant garde rock. Mooney lasted less than a year, before they brought in Damo Suzuki, whom they discovered busking in Munich. Lucky they did, too, because Suzuki’s vocals are half the fun of Can: he moves easily from creepy whisper (“One More Night”) to breathless paranoia (“I’m So Green”) to genuinely, desperately pretty (“Vitamin C”). Though apparently Suzuki came with his own set of problems, like the fact that he and Schmidt obsessively played chess, to the point that it was an obstacle for this record.
I think it’s worth noting that the two ten-minute tracks on here were my favorite. “Pinch” is an acid-covered groove with an engine and a slide whistle. “Soup,” on the other hand, wanders all over the place, from a Middle Eastern-inspired ambiance to heavy metal/screamo to an alien spaceship taking off. My rule of thumb is this: if it scares my dog, it rocks. This rocked.
And we can add this to the list of hugely impactful albums that I previously knew nothing about, because holy shit did a lot of musicians cite this as being their favorite. Stephen Malkmus (Pavement) said that he played this album “every night before I went to sleep for about three years.” Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) said something similar. Kanye freaking West samples “Sing Swan Song” in “Drunk and Hot Girls” and it works weirdly perfectly.
Can hasn’t played together since 1999, and many of its members have died. But Irmin Schmidt, Malcolm Mooney, and Damo Suzuki are all still alive — and all making avant garde music separately.