The word “Can” suggests two ideas. The first one is a cylindrical, complete, spherical sound like its referred object in the real world. But more importantly is the second and modal verb form, which suggests endless possibilities of movement or progress in any direction. Such is the sound of Can’s fourth full length effort, Future Days, which as its moniker suggests, drives into the cosmic dream of time in traditional mechanical krautrock aplomb.
Known for its unique sound of dexterous cosmic grooves as well as fusing exotic orientalist mantras with stone-in rock n’ roll and avant-garde classical music, the Cologne-based band has been pushing out albums since the late ’60s ranging from hermetic jams to coke-frenzied disco and glam. Cited by greats such as David Bowie, Sonic Youth and the Mars Volta, Can is known for setting music into motion both towards the inner machination of the mind as well as the outer reaches of the universe.
But for Future Days, the band moves towards a more plowing structure while still being linked to the monotonous heave of drummer Jacki Liebezeit. The album sports a dreamier production as well a meticulous equalization. Released in 1973, the album marks lead singer Damo Suzuki’s final recording with the band as well as the beginning of a new aesthetic for the group.
The first side is compromised of two eight-minute-plus tracks, “Future Days” and “Spray”, and the temporary night cap “Moonshake”. The album kicks off with the album’s title track, preluded by a musique conrète mish-mash of reverberating metallic clanging, analog bubbles and washing echoes that gives way to the steady chime of clockwork percussion, minimalist synth lines by Irmin Schmidt and angular fret work by guitarist Michael Karoli, all supported by swaths of oscillating feedback. Suzuki’s voice rises slowly into a faint and distant voice which garners energy with every step.
“Spray” takes off at the sound of an electric filter with a furious drumming gallop that turns into the motorik-beat-on-steroids marathon before grinding to a slower floating sing-song. “Moonshake” is the album’s hip-moving stomp, grooving to Holger Czukay’s jangly iron bass lines that feature a mid-cut dynamite climax.
The second side consists of the singular “Bel-Air”, a 19-minute sprawling spacey jam. Arguably the album’s finest moment, the composition combines the expansive improvisation of classic tracks such as “Pinch” with a refined sense of progression which is visible in the structure’s division of various sonic vignettes or different and evolving musical movements. Introducing itself with Damo’s lax vocals, the track changes from relaxed to driving and from explosive to care-free with its various climaxes and come-downs that have been moderated with order and propriety.
In terms of production, the record is the cleanest and most interesting work in the Can discography. Clearing up the somewhat grainy sound of Tago Mago and perfecting the Ege Bamyasi sleek veneer, the album sounds a little loftier for its added reverb and water sounds that give an impression of an astral glide. The equalization is darker with more of a low-end focus. Future Days also features the bass prominently, a first since past Can productions have either obliterated the four-stringed instrument from the mix or reduced it to almost nil.
Karoli’s guitar tone gets a makeover through analog effects, simulating the panning sound of Schmidt’s keyboard, creating a complimentary layered melodic drive which highlights the central sonic vacuum which is Liebezeit’s jazz-inspired repetitive percussion patterns and cells. A controlled chaos on toms, the main axis of direction resides on the drumming which toggles velocity and volume at its will.
Often hailed as an “Ambient” endeavor, the album only styles the production of clarity of the genre but its execution is far from being furniture music. “Spray” evolves through a series of subtle cataclysms that only seem mollified by the reverberating textures, while “Bel Air” slows down only to kick back into gear. Czukay’s expert touch in the editing room preserves some of the past experimentalism, involving sounds and textures but still opting for more of a controlled and structured progression, giving an added feel of the laid-back cruise through the desert’s moon on the heels of an old stellar convertible.
Hardcore Can fans of previous albums might be hard-pressed to digest Future Days, since the dynamics of a massive chain reaction have been curbed this time around into a softer experience that tends towards the driving rather than the meditative.
Neophytes might have some difficulty engaging the album since its almost constant plateau of polyrhythms, with the exception of “Moonshake”, might prove a bit tedious if looked at superficially. The record plays out like a good Les Rallizes Dénudés bootleg or Neu!’s first self-titled album and should be listened as such. Put it as background music and it dissolves into the echoes of existence, but place at the forefront of your stereo and it becomes a unique sonic experience rarely delivered with finesse.
Future Days is one of the more rewarding listens in the Can catalog as well as the whole cultural output of krautrock. But it is sadly occluded by the tremendous force of past releases. It’s one of those late, great productions that, as its name suggests, aims for the sleekest in sci-fi and plays just as it implies: a perfect combination of design and performance, speed and depth; style and substance.