Can: Tago Mago

Can is one of those bands that always lurked on the periphery of my musical awareness, but never received my undivided focus. I knew they were early innovators of experimental rock music. I knew that bassist Holger Czukay recorded some beautiful instrumental albums with David Sylvian. I knew I should listen to them, but I just never got around to it.

Now that I've checked out Tago Mago from EPFL, I know what I've been missing. This is a difficult album, but it is completely unique and undeniably awesome.

Music: 5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
On first listen, I guessed that Tago Mago came out somewhere in the mid 1970s, when punk innovators like Wire and Television were proving that you didn't need mad technical chops to create vital and relevant musical experimentation.

I was way off. Can's first album came out in '69, and Tago Mago was released in 1971.

I can't even begin to describe what this sounds like. It's rock music, but it embodies the spirit of punk and the spontaneity of jazz. It's adventurous and experimental, even for a time when the musical world was filled with the adventurous experiments of artists like Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground. It's chaotic, but it holds together without ever exploding.

This is punk before punk existed. This is jazz without the stodgy elitism. This is rock without the constraints that normally define rock. This is, quite simply, everything that makes the greatest punk and jazz and rock so damned exciting.

Packaging: 3 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
I haven't read much of British rock critic David Stubbs' writing, but if his essay here is typical of his style, he should be banished to the dark recesses of romance novels and open-mic poetry. His words epitomize the pseudo-intellectualism that makes people despise music journalists. For example:

"There's a moment here when, so in synch are the band that the song actually levitates."

No, jackass, the song did not actually levitate. Your inability to use proper punctuation or sentence structure, however, did make my blood pressure rise.

Anyway. Stubbs' commentary on the album is rotten, but the essay by Primal Scream vocalist Bobby Gillespie clearly demonstrates a love for Can's music, and his story about jamming with 2/5 of Can is genuinely exciting. Best of all, he doesn't resort to any Stubbs-isms like "beetling basslines" or "impassioned vocals creating a mist of condensation."

(Here's some obscure music trivia I figured out from reading the liner notes: The name of the band The Mooney Suzuki comes from the surnames of original Can vocalist Malcolm Mooney and his replacement, Damo Suzuki.)

Listen if you like: Kraftwerk, Sonic Youth, Miles Davis' fusion experiments from the late '60s and early '70s, Zappa, Pink Floyd's early records, Wire, Television.

If it were food, it'd be: One of my co-workers turned me on to the fact that Huy Fong's Sriracha hot sauce is delicious with pretty much everything, including pizza, popcorn, veggie dogs, mac & cheese, and even peanut butter sandwiches. Tago Mago is like the unholy combination of Sriracha and peanut butter: it shouldn't make any sense, but it's utterly fantastic.


Master Cianan said...

I had never heard of Can. Now I want to, nay, MUST hear them.

andy pratt said...

very interesting blog here. wonder if Enoch Pratt was a great-uncle...was he from the Standard Oil Pratts?
anyway..I'm a singer/songwriter trying to get a bigger audience again, I could easily send some cds to your library...here are some web sites for your perusal...
happy days to all...

Andy Pratt






Master Cianan said...

Sriracha is the lesser cousin of Huy Fong's superlative sambal oelek chili paste. Sriracha for some reason is the more popular of the two, and while quite good, it isn't fit to lick the shit from the feet of the sambal sauce, figuratively speaking. Check it out.

andy pratt said...

I like Indonesian food. I had it often in the Netherlands...peanut sauce forever...

taotechuck said...

Cianan, yea, you MUST hear Can, or at least this album. (I've got a review of another of their albums, Ege Bamyasi, going up soon, but it didn't fare nearly as well on the ol' library card rating system.) I'll scope out the other Huy Fong sauce, but methinks you are insane for dismissing the beauty of Sriracha.

Andy, welcome to the blog. I believe Enoch made his fortune on iron and railroads, but honestly, I've never really looked into the history of the man. But yowzah, he sure did leave an awesome library system in his wake!

andy pratt said...

I dismiss things because I'm only one person and I get tired...I've been listening to music my whole life, and eating, too....I'm not critizizing or rejecting, just streamlining a bit...I want you to check out my music and/or book...I might be a descendent of this Enoch...Charles the founder of Pratt Institute was my great-grandfather...
blessings forever
Andy P

Master Cianan said...

Sambal Oelek has better flavor. It's got less vinegar in it, so it goes better with your food. It's not that sriracha sucks, it's that sambal, while lesser known, is tastier.

But Can sounds like they'd be right up my alley.