Much as my brother was disappointed at the dearth of Elton John on our 1970s list, I was a little disheartened to see how few votes Ege Bamyasi, Can’s fourth (and in my opinion best) album, received. Not everybody grow’s up with krautrock, myself included, so I can’t be too upset, but in the last few years, it has become one of my favorite albums of the decade. A fitting follow-up to their 1971 opus Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi made the weird aspects of the band even weirder, while making the more accessible aspects even more attractive to the more song-inclined.
Ege Bamyasi, first of all, had five songs under 6 minutes in length, which was a rarity for the epic-leaning German group. “Progressive” was not just a term applied to the style of music, but for how long one single piece would progress before ending, it seemed. Nonetheless, Can decided to make the longer tracks more scarce, making them stand out even more. In this case, there are two — opener “Pinch” and middle-section “Soup.” The former was a bit of a free, funky jam session with plenty of howls and wails from singer Damo Suzuki, while the latter is a slow-building groove-rocker along the lines of Tago Mago‘s “Halleluwah.”
The shorter tracks, for me, however, are where the group really shines. For once Can decided that a song can just be a song, not necessary to stretch into insane realms of spaciness and nebulousness. “Sing Swan Song” is a simple waltz, sprinkled lightly with odd percussive effects and a fairly straightforward vocal by Suzuki. Hearing this song now, it’s obvious where the inspiration for Radiohead’s “Street Spirit” came from. More rhythmic, playful sounds emerge on “One More Night,” while “Vitamin C” rides a simple groove, crescendoing with a suspenseful guitar strum and Suzuki’s shout of “Hey you…you’re losing your vitamin C!”
“I’m So Green,” one of two three-minute tracks that close the album, is funky and soulful enough to be confused with a Sly Stone track, though with a Japanese street performer singing instead of Mr. Stone himself, not to mention Can’s arrangements were always more minimalistic than the true funk bands at the time. The closer, “Spoon” was the first hit for the band in Germany and possibly the only one. A truly weird arrangement with tribal drumming, an assembly line-like repeating series of wobbly guitars and basslines and Suzuki’s echoing vocals, “Spoon” might be the finest 3 minutes Can ever recorded, but that all depends on what one likes about the band in the first place.
For what it’s worth, Ege Bamyasi is one of my personal favorites from the ’70s. It may never earn any sort of mainstream acceptance in the States, but that’s what made Can so cool in the first place. They weren’t concerned with doing what everyone else was doing, and it’s near impossible to find anyone who comes close today.
Similar Albums/Albums Influenced:
Neu! – Neu!
Stereolab – Emperor Tomato Ketchup
Secret Machines – Now Here is Nowhere