Will Schube has never been to the planet of the Bapes
The idea of ‘lost tapes’ from a band, especially one that always veered a little too close to a brand of music that was overly avant-garde, is a risky proposition. Can is one of the great unheralded groups of the 70s and 80s, who spent their existence hovering the line between ecstatically creative and a little too weird for their own good. If the tracks that made the album feel this way, the work that didn’t escape the cutting room floor is a daunting concept. Luckily, Mute Records’ work with the Lost Tapes, a sprawling three disc set, balances the overtly weird with some of the most straightforward work in Can’s discography.
The collection is a menace to work through and isn’t likely to gain the German group any new listeners, but the amount of gems spaced out over the three discs will be a welcomed addition to any Can fan. Disc 1 begins with “Millionenspiel,” which manages to work in five or six distinctly different ideas over the track’s six minutes. The only connecting line between these disparate sections is that they exist on the same track. Otherwise, no tangible link seems to exist.
“Waiting for the Streetcar” is fun for about three minutes, before the track’s last seven beat the listener into submission with its relentless repetition. Damo Suzuki, who the band discovered busking in Munich, has never had a particularly firm grasp of the English language, and his lyrical process seems to suggest he sings whatever new phrase he learned while writing. In this case, “Are you waiting for the streetcar?” is the lyric of choice. “Deadly Doris” is the most straightforward track on Disc 1, and this time, Suzuki hones his focus in on the word ‘sexy’, singing, “Sexy sexy sexy sexy Doris is dead.” Not particularly evocative or inspiring, but lyrical beauty is never at the forefront when the music is so overpoweringly interesting.
Disc 2 is the most engaging of the three, featuring an absolute burner in “Midnight Sky” and a live version of “Spoon” that works its way towards cathartic ecstasy—the sort of release one might find in American jam bands of the 70s. “A Swan Is Born” seems to be an early incarnation of “Sing Swan Song,” a track famous for Kanye’s use of it on “Drunk and Hot Girls.” This demo form is less fleshed than the track that appears on Ege Bamyasi, but its energy is more apparent and exciting than the official version. The 17 minute version of “Spoon” gives way to the twelve minute “Dead Pigeon Suite,” which takes the woodwinds at the end of “Vitamin C” (also off Ege Bamyasi) and stretches them out over South Americanin-fluenced percussion before the suite ends with a thrilling rendition of “Vitamin C,” all raw energy without any of the gloss on the Bamyasi version.
This middle section of Disc 2 is serious work, as the 30 or so minutes of “Spoon” and “Dead Pigeon Suite” give way to the ten minute “Abra Cada Braxas.” The track’s energy is remarkably unwavering for such a long track, yet this three song section is unrelenting in its duration. “The Loop” closes out the second disc nicely, as warm acoustic guitar displays the vast influences Can incorporated into their work.
The third disc is the collection’s longest, clocking in at 11 tracks with a few live gems thrown in for fun. “On The Way To Mother Sky” sounds like a source of inspiration for Bromst-era Dan Deacon, while “Midnight Men” is a shimmering synthesizer exercise, both gorgeous and grating. “Barnacles” brings that trademark kraut-funk Can absolutely nailed during their heyday.
Disc 3 is certainly the most spacious of the compilation, more intent on difficult soundscapes and repetition than songwriting rooted in structure. This brings a slight halt to the momentum the first two discs created, but this section finishes with a bang as a live version of “One More Saturday Night” leaves one craving for the days in which a band as innovative and genre-less as Can could bring their creative deconstructions to the stage. The Lost Tapes is an essential piece to any fan of Can, but this diverse set requires patience, as its existence is as much a look into method as presentation. This can lead to moments of frustration, but as with all of Can’s discography, this struggle is always worth it because of the results they reach. Out of chaos and disorder comes a beauty distinct and wholly original.