Can push the limits of rock music on ‘Tago Mago’

In August 1971, when Can released his second album, Tago Mago, there wasn’t much that looked like it. Half a century later, there is still not much in the musical landscape like this record.

The debut album of the German krautrock band, 1969’s Monster Movie, featured many of the same elements featured in the sequel: touches of experimental music and psychedelia, as well as an epic, side song with an unconventionally spelled title. But between these two records, the quintet has a new singer.

And while Monster Moviefrontman Malcolm Mooney, a black American, helped launch Can – he gave the group their name and played a central role in shaping their sound – the addition of Japanese Damo Suzuki on Tago Mago turned out to be an important moment in their careers and in the many genres they would go through.

Mooney returned to the United States in the early 1970s after suffering from a nervous breakdown. He helped establish the band’s blend of avant-garde experimentalism and garage-rock psychedelia; he was the catalyst for the first 20-minute “Yoo Doo Right”, which was edited from a six-hour improvisation piece.

Listen to Can’s “Halleluhwah”

But Can’s uncontrollable, unstructured music reflected only too much personal issues. In the mid-1970s, bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit saw Suzuki play in Munich and invited him to perform with them that night, although he only knew a few guitar chords and improvised. all his words.

In May, he was part of the group and was helping with the recording of Soundtracks, a film soundtrack compilation that Can started with Mooney. In November they started recording Tago Mago in a West German mansion.

Over the next few months, the band sometimes locked themselves in for more than 15 hours a day working on new music. In addition to the long jams they went through – which Czukay then edited to more acceptable song lengths – outside sources and found sounds, like barking dogs and screaming children, would be incorporated into the tracks. finished. Everything was shaping up to be a more ambitious and even more unstructured album than Can’s first album.

From the opening “Paperhouse” to the end of the LP “Bring Me Coffee or Tea”, Tago Mago – a double disc of seven songs that lasts over 73 minutes – puts his most astonishing tracks in the foreground. The rhythms slowly seep into something more wacky, Suzuki builds his voice from low growls to howls over the songs and entire tracks play out at a beat that can take from four (“Mushroom”) to 18 (“Halleluhwah “) minutes .

Listen to Can’s “Oh Yeah”

The result was an album that pushed the boundaries of rock music at a time when boundaries were broken every few months. But no other record released in 1971 sounds as extravagant or avant-garde as Tago Mago (whose title refers to an island near Ibiza called Illa de Tagomago). In many ways, despite his influence on other artists over the decades, he is still ahead of his time.

The flow is deliberate: “Paperhouse”, “Mushroom”, “Oh Yeah” and “Halleluhwah”, the entirety of the first two sides, drift into the occasional spaces left vacant by the propulsive rhythms with an ease that is both confident and uncomfortable. . Suzuki has never been better than here, riding the mix and sometimes sinking below the surface, like the only dynamic rising above hypnotic grooves.

Tago Mago became Can’s definitive album and the pinnacle of the Suzuki era, which only lasted for two more records, the years 1972 Ege Bamyasi and 1973 Future days. It hasn’t aged much, if at all, in the years since its release. Contemporaries like Marc Bolan to post-punks including John Lydon (who based the sound and style of Public Image Ltd. on the record) at Radiohead all cited him as a direct source of inspiration for their work.

While many bands hammered blues-rock to the same sound in the heads of music fans in the early ’70s, Can drew inspiration from the outside like jazz – improvisation playing and punchy swing are deeply in it. rooted – and the art of performance. , as well as areas that no one else really thought about at the time, like cutting and pasting edits to tape as a form of creative expression. Tago Wago is just as revealing today as it was then.

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