Nov 032010

Granted, the following video of Can is probably not considered representative of the band’s sound, but the revolutionary, political mumbo jumbo surrounding it is – I believe – a major factor in this band’s critical acclaim among rock snobs.

I can empathize with many of you who identify with the “socialist” stance of a Can or Henry Cow, with the “anarchist” stance of an MC5. It’s hard to give up on the belief that rock ‘n roll is important, and who better to uphold rock’s claims to social relevance than some avant-garde German hippies? If only these high-minded expressions were upheld in the grooves…

Any time I’ve tried to get into Can I’m reminded of those “tweener” Pink Floyd albums, when the Roger Waters-led band was trying to find its way as song sculptors. Here’s Can playing “Paperhouse,” probably on Beat Club, with all those snazzy psychedelic projections.

I guess this stuff was a huge influence on a lot of noisy, ’80s-era Homestead bands. Congratulations.

Here, on “Bring Me Coffee or Tea,” the band takes a stab at “Riders On the Storm” moodiness…minus anything that I can imagine would possibly make a listener care about the song.

Finally, here’s the band performing a song called “Spoon,” probably what inspired the ice-cold Austin indie band’s choice of name.

This is all right, and it’s a rare example of a Can song that I could see influencing Public Image Ltd., an influence that got me interested in checking out Can in the first place way back in 1981. Is this as good as it gets? Does singer Damo Suzuki ever add anything worthwhile to the band other than being a sexy Asian presence with great hair? Bullshit on Damo, if nothing else!

Thanks to my dissatisfaction with Can I did feel compelled to investigate other German bands from that time with much better results: the repetitive focus of Neu! delivered, Amon Düül II‘s loopy psychedelia is very cool… But Can? No Can do.

Now that I've considered the current "Bullshit On" piece on Can, I can definitively say:

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  23 Responses to “Bullshit On: Can”

  1. Well, if you don’t like an incredibly tight rhythm section, funky grooves, and acrobatic guitar playing, then I guess CAN isn’t for you. But do listen to “You Doo Right,” “Father Cannot Yell,” “Mother Sky,” “Oh Yeah,” “Hallelujah,” and/or “Sing Swan Song” before you give up entirely.

  2. cherguevara

    Maybe you’re listening too hard? My taste in pop/rock leans toward highly melodic bands with concise song structures. I like Spoon – I find them erratic, but could make a “best of” that I could stand behind 100%. I like Neil Finn, Andy Partridge. The Beatles. But then, as a teen I also got into Kraftwerk and found some odd records in my parents’ collection – minimalism, musique concrete, 20th century classical stuff. But also, I do like Can.

    I’d never heard of Can until their albums were reissued. At the time I was a voracious reader of “Musician Magazine,” which printed a review of the Can catalog which said, “if you don’t know this music, then you don’t know anything about music.” Something along those lines. I thought, “well, I’d best check that out.” I bought Tago Mago, but I didn’t really like it, but I lent it to a stoner friend of mine and he went bananas for it.

    What I like about it is the hypnotic quality of it, I don’t find it to be “active listening” music. It’s more immersive. I don’t like rambling solos or endless jams, and while it might seem that this is exactly what Can does, I think that they must have the same kind of attention span that I have, because it never goes on too long. I like the “sonics as composition” approach that they have – it’s not just a composed song with chords, rhythm and melody, but rather they are working with timbre and texture, density and sparseness and equality of sounds, where the vocal, drums, everything are equals.

    And I don’t want to drift this thread too much, but given my usual tastes in music, why don’t I like the Bongos more?

  3. Yeah, I know a number of those songs. At best they’re “OK” to my ears. They have some good ideas but rarely take them anywhere as far as I can tell.

  4. cher wrote:

    And I don’t want to drift this thread too much, but given my usual tastes in music, why don’t I like the Bongos more?

    Ha! I ask myself that question every time I play “In the Congo” and then move onto more than one more song at a time from Drums Along the Hudson.

  5. cherguevara

    F-ing windchimes, I hate them. Lazy songwriting.

  6. misterioso

    I couldn’t possibly care less, at least not without additional effort that I can’t possible care less to make.

  7. misterioso

    I plead ignorance here–the only song I can call to mind is Bulrushes. I always liked that. I have a vague recollection of listening to Drums Along the Hudson when it came out. But, jeez, that was a long time ago.

  8. Yes, that’s the other song I always like on that album before, usually, getting more bored with it than I think I should.

  9. cherguevara

    Sorry, I drifted this thread real good.

  10. This type of music has its place — although I’m not sure where when you have a job, kids, etc. I really don’t have time chill and listen to this type of stuff anymore.

    Drifting . . . . thanks to loads of free time as youth and the cut-out bins of old, an electro German band I went kind crazy for was Tangerine Dream — and even got a couple of Peter Bauman solo efforts. One of my English teachers wanted to buy my Peter Bauman Romance ’76 record — No Way Man!

  11. shawnkilroy

    This is good “smoke a joint, and clean the whole house” music.

  12. pudman13

    I never gave a moment’s thought to their socialism (something much more apparent with Faust, who apparently lived together in some kind of co-op style arrangement.) I’m generally not a fan of really long songs by anyone, especially when a lot of it is improvised, so Krautrock in general is something I like a lot more in theory than in practice, but Can and Faust are the two bands who wrote the best actual songs and whose music seems to me to be the most thoughtfully composed. I think MONSTER MOVIE, TAGO MAGO and EGE BAMYASI are very listeneable albums with a lot of depth. I also recommend all four of the albums Faust made during their lifetime.

    I should also point out that Krautrock can be truly beautiful:

  13. What’s a “thoughtfully composed” song I might have missed in the Can catalog, pudman13?

  14. I like Can a lot, but their albums really vary in approach and you might see more in others than the ones you’ve sampled. One that I would recommend unreservedly is Future Days. Damo is on that, but he’s clearly not the point of the band. Future Days is really relaxed, grooving, slightly funky, trance music. It has the same relaxed forward motion for me as In a Silent Way by Miles Davis. The drummer is especially great, very swinging and low key.

    Also, Mr. Mod, I believe you like your avant mixed in with a little garage, as in Pere Ubu and even to some extent PIL. The rhythm section under Can’s best stuff is anything but Garage, in fact it approaches a certain elegance.

    By the way, I’ve had Future Days in my three disc bedroom stereo for probably 5 nights running. Seriously.

  15. BigSteve

    I’ve never liked Can as much as I feel I ought to. I like Can-influenced music, and I’ve liked some stuff done by the members of the group post-Can, especially Jaki Liebezeit, but I have to listen to actual Can very selectively. The vocals are always a problem, but not the only problem. They insisted on being who they were rather than who I wanted them to be.

  16. shawnkilroy

    I think MONSTER MOVIE, TAGO MAGO and EGE BAMYASI are very listeneable albums with a lot of depth.

    these are my 3 faves as well!

  17. I’ll seek out that one, geo, and I’ll pull out that collection you gave me years ago. Thanks. I never exactly DISlike them, beside that Damo fool, but it bugs me that I rarely LIKE them.

  18. You write:

    They insisted on being who they were rather than who I wanted them to be.

    There’s a meaty thread, as applied to a number of bands, in itself!

  19. This is why I show up here. I know Can from one track on a euro-prog/krautrock compilation. But “Oh Yeah” is the best thing on there (maybe the guitar strangling Ash Ra Temple but that’s not for everyday use). I actually dug these tracks in Grateful Dead sort of way. Funky, spacey, collaborative music that comes from a communal lifestyle. Plus, it shears off the folk basis of the Dead and subs in German art leanings for extra rock-nerd cool points. I may need to check into this in more depth.

  20. pudman13

    “Vitamin C” is the first that comes to mind.

  21. That’s not a terrible song, pudman13, thanks. To me, though, it sounds like something Bjork or Radiohead would do – more of an “atmospheric” build in the studio off some cool groove than “composed.”

    Here’s the song, for those who don’t know what we’re talking about:

  22. Mr.M,

    This may be nit-picky but I feel compelled to throw the bullshit flag on the RTH “On Bullshit” graphic. That’s not a bull. There is clearly a vajayjay under the pooper. I’m ashamed to have noticed.

  23. gregg, you may have clinched the award for All-Time RTH Pince Nez! We’ll point this out to the graphic artist. Thank you:)

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