Can spent the ’70s in a state of constant flux. Their lineup changed every couple of records or so, with original vocalist Malcolm Mooney being replaced by Damo Suzuki midway through the recordings of second album Soundtracks. And though the Suzuki era only spans 3.5 records, with the release of 1971 double album Tago Mago, the Japanese former street performer established himself as an integral part of the band’s sound, bringing both his avant garde tendencies and charismatic presence as frontman to their pulsing, innovative sound, which paired a compositional looseness and tape editing technique similar to that of ’70s-era Miles Davis with the influence of minimalist composers and early uses of electronic textures. By the release of their follow-up to that album, 1972’s Ege Bamyasi, Can had stretched the weirdest aspects of the band into more oddball territory, while emphasizing hooks and melodies to an even greater degree.
Ege Bamyasi represents Can at their most concise and song-oriented, with five songs under 6 minutes in length—a marked change from the presence of Tago Mago‘s two side-long compositions. Even with more judicious editing, Can’s approach to rock music remained progressive and experimental, each track ending up somewhere other than how it began. Even the longest songs here, opener “Pinch” and middle-section “Soup,” carry a tension and tautness that feels somewhat distant from the moments of free improvisation on its predecessor. The former is a bit of a free, funky jam session with plenty of howls and wails from Suzuki, while the latter is a slow-building groove-rocker along the lines of Tago Mago‘s “Halleluwah,” albeit several minutes shorter.
On the shorter tracks, for me, however, are where Can hone in on their greatest strengths as a band. On a standout like “Sing Swan Song,” the group inject wobbly effects and eerie atmosphere into what’s ostensibly a simple waltz, a song that in hindsight feels like a natural precursor to Radiohead’s “Street Spirit (Fade Out).” More rhythmic, playful sounds emerge on “One More Night,” while “Vitamin C” is some of the deepest funk they ever delivered, climaxing in Suzuki’s cry of, “Hey you…you’re losing your vitamin C!“
Closing track “Spoon” was the rare hit for the band, achieving a broader audience due to its use in a popular TV show. And it’s certainly catchy, if in the band’s own peculiar way. A truly weird arrangement with tribal drumming, an assembly line-like repeating series of wobbly guitars and basslines and Suzuki’s echoing vocals, “Spoon” is among the finest music Can ever recorded, but it’s also something of an anomaly. It also ended up being more profitable than anything they had recorded prior, thus providing more promising opportunities for recordings to come.
Ege Bamyasi is at once one of the best albums of the ’70s and one of the most peculiar. It’s perhaps the closest that Can ever came to making a proper “rock” album as we understand it, though such definitions are specious and subjective. It is, however, as fun as progressive rock (or “krautrock”) ever got, merging some deeply funky material with free, atmospheric moments that offer a glimpse into the band’s unique genius. And though it’s certainly the only Can album of its kind, such can be said of any of their releases, each one a captured moment of inspiration from a band that never stopped evolving.
Label: United Artists
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.