Communism. Anarchy. Nihilism. That is what the brilliant Krautrock band Can supposedly stands for. Whether that is an urban legend or not really makes no difference. In the end, those words (among many others) could be used to describe their music. The Lost Tapes is (as it sounds) a collection of previously unreleased material from this legendary group. The triple-disc collection from Mute Records contains a vast amount of music, and just about all of it is of remarkable quality.
These are not “studio scraps” or rejected tracks by any means, which is born out by the excellence of the music. The Lost Tapes began as an effort to distill some 50 hours of material down to a manageable triple-disc set. To break it down, there are a total of 30 individual tracks, which add up to nearly three hours of music.
Thankfully, the set has been presented in somewhat chronological order, from 1968 up to 1977. Can may have been the ultimate “jam” band. But not in the way that term is used today. What they would generally do is go into the studio and play and play and play. Later, they would edit the material into shape for release on such classics as Monster Movie (1969), Tago Mago (1971), Ege Bamyasi (1972), and Future Days (1973). Their first collection of “lost” music was Unlimited Edition (1976). A lot of people cite Unlimited Edition as the “best” Can album, and it is great, no doubt about it. But The Lost Tapes is a completely different animal, and a must for fans of the group.
The group recorded so much material, that The Lost Tapes could function as a previously unreleased chronicle of Can’s first, golden phase together. Can had two vocalists, the first was Malcolm Mooney, who left in 1970. His replacement was Damo Suzuki, who appears on the majority of the set, but Mooney is present on a few tracks. The two had very different voices, but both functioned in much the same way, as another “instrument” in the musical mix.
Holger Czukay has referred to Can’s live and studio performances as “instant compositions.” It is an exceptional description of the group’s improvisational nature, and the reason that everything they recorded is unique. The set contains a wide variety of material, from rehearsal tapes to unused soundtrack music, and some live performances. As a matter of fact, one of the many things that make this compilation so intriguing are the live cuts. Two of Can’s most well-known songs are “Spoon,” and “Mushroom.” Both are included here, but in live versions which are incredible, and very different from the previously released editions.
Just about everything else qualifies as “new” Can material. I am a huge fan of the extended pieces, such as “Aumgm” from Tago Mago, or “Bel Aire” from Future Days. A couple of great extended pieces here include “Graublau,” and the wild “Waiting for the Streetcar.”
Considering the fact that Can’s first album proper was titled Monster Movie, and that they have always been interested in soundtrack music, it is no surprise that some of their unreleased soundtrack music is of such high quality. This is evident with the inclusion of such tracks as “Messers Scissors, Fork, and Light,” and “Dead Pigeon Suite.”
There is enough incredible music on this compilation to fill a book. The impact that Irmin Schmidt (keyboards), Holger Czukay (bass), Michael Karoli (guitar), Jaki Liebezeit (drums) and (primarily) Damo Suzuki (vocals) have had, and continue to have, on music is immeasurable. That list could fill the rest of this potential book. Among the many who have proudly cited Can as an influence include Joy Division, David Bowie, Suicide, The Flaming Lips, and Radiohead. Julian Cope wrote the brilliant Krautrocksampler (1995), which prominently featured Can. The Fall recorded a song titled “I Am Damo Suzuki,“ and Brian Eno made a short film in celebration of the band.
John Lydon may be the biggest fan of all. In his autobiography Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs (1993), he cites Tago Mago as his all-time favorite album. The band he formed after the Sex Pistols imploded was Public Image Ltd. PiL were specifically patterned as a five-piece after Can. And their Metal Box (1979) was packaged in a literal (film) can. That album (titled Second Edition in the US), is often referred to as the birth of post-punk. Yet tracks such as “Albatross” and “Poptones” seem to pick up right where Can left off.
“Ahead of their time” is a ridiculously overused description, but if there is anyone who ever qualified for the tag, it would be Can. The Lost Tapes contains music from over 40 years ago, and it still sounds like nothing else out there. This is a literal treasure trove of (for all intents and purposes) new Can music, and could not be more highly recommended.