Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Can (planned for Stylus)
Prior to recording Ege Bamyasi in 1972, Can scored an unlikely pop hit in the German charts with “Spoon”, which sold some 300,000 copies due to being the theme tune to a television programme. The money that came from this unexpected hit enabled them to buy an old cinema, which they both lived and recorded in for the next few years; prior to that they’d recorded in a castle, because the owner of the castle thought they were great (possibly). Recording Ege Bamyasi was fractious – two of the band obsessively played chess during the sessions (if you can call them sessions), driving the rest of the band to distraction, and a shortfall of finished material meant they superglued “Spoon” to the end of the album in order to flesh it out to 40 minutes and seven tracks.
But anyway, influence aside. Ege Bamyasi is my favourite Can album, possibly because it’s the first one I got, some 7 years ago as a wide-eyed 18-year old, and possibly because it’s also the most fun. I played it at a party once, years ago, and everyone else complained that it was weird. It’s Can’s most pop album, which is to say that it’s like aliens hearing all 20th century music at once and not realising that there are different genres at work, that genres must not cross or whatever it is that fascists think, so that when the aliens try and make their own music it contains everything at once, mashed up and amalgamated, given equal weighting, ideas chosen on whether they sound good rather than some arbitrary order of “merit” (which is, of course, how it should be). So you end up with something that borrows from jazz, from rock, from the beginnings of electronic music, from Vietnamese music and various other musics from across the globe, long before World Music became a section in HMV. There’s guitar as wild as anything Hendrix did, synths and electronics as innovative as Tangerine Dream, rhythms as motorik as Faust and always, always, Jaki Leibzeit’s incredible, pulsating drumming, repeat repeat repeat into delirium, making you twitch and jerk and spasm with little, replicating jolts of percussive joy.
“I’m So Green” is a liquid funk thing divorced from what George Clinton was doing but still recognisable, almost catchy if it actually had real words (some of them sound like real words, sometimes). “Sing Swan Song” (emerging through a veil of water, a trick Orbital would pinch for “I Wish I Had Duck Feet” some 20+ years later) is a bona fide pop song, blissed and vaguely oriental, that you can sing along to, as long as you sing in mumbles, yelps and yodels and can concentrate enough to stop your entire body jerking with the rhythm. The aforementioned “Spoon” is bizarre, spooky, oddly disorienting, but still pop, just about; I’d love to know what kind of television programme it themed. “One More Night” is likewise laden with extra-terrestrial hooks, conventions being disregarded and reconstructed, a song if a song is music with words, or even just music on its own, but also a whole other world of possibilities and sounds and hyperactive imaginations.
Possibly the best two tracks on Ege Bamyasi are the spiralling sonic miasma of “Spoon”, the most outright experimental and “difficult” song on the album (just listen to the tremulous, ludicrous round-and-round surge five minutes in), and “Pinch”, the ten-minute spacepop opener, shuttling rolls of drums and electronic squeaks, everything I’d ever imagined Can would be after reading about them before I ordered the original CD release of this album. That is to say insane, but brilliant, involving, experimental but not unfriendly, weird but not horrible in any way, too long but not long enough. Just listen to it.
The original CD version of Ege Bamyasi from 1989, like almost all early CDs, was thin and indistinct sounding. Sure, you could tell the music was amazing and extraordinary, because really great music shows its quality even over a shitty transistor radio with a fucked cone (“River Deep Mountain High”!), but there was always a sense that it could become exponentially better if only it had that extra depth and clarity, if only the drums had that little bit more thwack, the bass a touch more weight, the bizarre slips of electronic noise or synthesiser a little more definition. But technology’s come a long way in the last 15 years, and the remastering jobs on classic Miles Davis albums recorded in the 50s, 60s and 70s (and a whole host of other great records from decades past by myriad artists) shows that a good pair of ears and a mixing desk and whatever-the-hell-else filters and compressors and other assorted little electronic boxes with magical sonic powers can work absolute wonders. That is to say that Ege Bamyasi was always a bloody fantastic record, but now, remastered and re-released by the lovely people at Mute and Spoon, it is an absolutely fucking monumental one. It has voodoo qualities. It’s one of my favourite records ever, and now it sounds good enough to justify the hyperbole.
12/14/2004 09:24:00 am