Can – Tago Mago (1971)
Glenn: Deep funk you’d feel weird shaking your butt to. Crisp production, with oddly EQ’d drums — muted. Like what you hear with a head cold or a fever. Two long sound collages — one of which contains my all-time favorite 2 minutes of Can (that’d be the opening of “Aumgn”), and the other of which is made up of shouting, carnival blee-boop organ licks, and delay pedal fuckery. A distanced feeling throughout. So is this emotionless post-rock jamming more to be admired than to be enjoyed? Or is there blood in these grooves?
Jordy: There is vibrant life in these grooves. As my liner notes quotes keyboardist Irmin Schmidt: Can was like a “mighty, pulsing organism.” Similarly, I would define the “life” of Tago Mago more in biological terms. It has a regular heartbeat and bowel movements, for instance. (Excuse me while I abandon this analogy…)
Take 2: Tago Mago is like real pure booze. It induces a heady high but without all the haziness of the cheaper stuff. And in that way, to respond to Glenn’s question, you can admire it while you enjoy it. This is proved by the centerpiece track “Halleluhwah.” This tune will convert the skeptics because it showcases Can’s sturdy legs: the bass and drums. There is one samurai in this band and it’s not who you’re thinking, you racist: It’s Jaki Fucking Liebezeit. That fellow never missed a beat and it provided an impossibly well-wrought framework on which the rest of the band built. With Holger Czukay’s bass, Can ascended to something funkier. He was as precise as Liebezeit at a precisely different time yielding a workaday syncopation that will get yer feet tappin’! These two guys completely sucked all the blues out of rock music and you’d better thank them for it.
As for much of the latter half of the record, I find it fairly alienating: spooky soundscapes, random synth and drum machine interjections and Damo’s ramblings…meh.
Glenn: I’d advise you to take another listen to those first couple minutes of “Aumgn”: well-constructed and even a bit of a groove. Up until Damo begins yowling.
I’m not sure that Can “sucked out the blues” but there is something missing-sounding about Tago Mago. The opening “side” (“Paperhouse,” “Mushroom,” “Oh Yeah”) is like a suite — three funky, heady jams. But there’s something, and I’m not quite sure what it is, that makes the opening sound very eerie, and very cold. Maybe like music broadcast on the spaceship Discovery. Jim DeRogatis says that “the standout tracks have an air of mystery and forbidden secrets” and I’m inclined to agree. Perhaps this is because bassist Holger Czukay recorded the band on the sly during set-up? Or maybe it’s because the samurai-drums sound so dry? None of the other Can records I’ve heard (Monster Movie, Ege Bamyasi, Future Days, Soon Over Babaluma) have that missing, otherworldly quality that is so engaging and admirable and, frankly, spooky.
Jordy, what do you think about Michael Karoli’s guitar work? All I think of during the guitar solos is that Mark Prindle dubbed Karoli a “sexy young fuck god.” Why is that?
Jordy: I’m down with the first part of “Aumgn.” I’ve never seen Michael Karoli so I couldn’t confirm Ole Prind’s description of him.
Glenn: We’ll let the readers decide. What do you say? Sexy? Young? Fuck? God?
3 Essential Tracks: