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Music Review: Can – The Lost Tapes

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Can: The Lost TapesAsk the average person who the band Can is and you will likely get a confused face in return. But this essential krautrock group has influenced so many of our favorite contemporary artists, it’s hard to avoid their influence. From Radiohead to Q-Tip, Can continues to inspire innovators in music.

Completists and aficionados buzzed at the announcement of The Lost Tapes. But there is always trepidation when material is released so far after a band’s dissolution. Would that spark of sonic exploration be fresh, or are they releasing the dregs of their material as an afterthought or cash grab?

Filed down from about 50 hours of material, this three-CD box set is solid from start to finish. From the outset, Can explores the space of their studio with disciplined liberation. Layered tape hiss, amp hum, and found percussion break into rocking jazz fusion in the opening track “Millionenspiel“, and the pace is set. Over three hours of genre-defying experimentation captures the essence of the band beautifully.

Longtime fans of Can will feel right at home with this collection. Compiled over several years for a multitude of purposes, every track is classic Can. Moving from raucous psychedelia (“Graublau”), to gorgeous melody (“Obscura Primavera“), to freeform soundscapes (“Blind Mirror Surf”), to live renditions of favorites Spoon and “One More Saturday Night” , this box set offers all the essential elements that define Can as a band.

New listeners should set their expectations aside. There are no musical formulas or clichés at work here, and few precedents. Can’s modus operandi is to push creative freedom without regard to specific forms or styles. Some of the songs are careful orchestrations, some are insane live jams, and some tracks are multi-faceted meditations on a particular space. But one thing that is consistent throughout The Lost Tapes, and all of Can’s oeuvre, is the spirit of exploration.

Fans of Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Sonic Youth, The Velvet Underground or Portishead will recognize the beauty of Can’s strangeness. Themselves influenced by classical, free-jazz and anything avant-garde, Can blended styles into a new aesthetic while ushering in the age of electronic music. The Talking Heads, The Cars, The Orb, Brian Eno, Stereolab, and Tortoise all cite Can as influences. But far from feeling like a pastiche, The Lost Tapes has a continuity that can only be described by the simple, liberty-affirming declaration “Can”.

Forty years after the material was recorded, Can’s historical footprint continues to grow. “Drunk and Hot Girls” by Kanye West featuring Mos Def is a surprising (some might say inappropriate) sample of “Sing Swan Song” from Can’s Ege Bamyasi. Q-Tip’s “Manwomanboogie” is a funky sample of “Aspectacle” from a 1979 Can recording found on the compilation Cannibalism 2.

The quality and fidelity of The Lost Tapes is top notch. Meticulously preserved and beautifully digitized, these tapes are as clean and defect-free as Can’s album material. This is quite a feat considering the raw magnetic stock was forgotten about for decades. I only wish this box set was released on LP where the dynamic range and true inner space of the recordings could have been coaxed out of the vinyl medium.

Well priced, nicely packaged, and featuring liner notes from band leader Irmin Schmidt, The Lost Tapes three CD box set is a beautiful look into the creative process of a band whose primary focus was the creative process.

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About Eric R Schiller