Release Date: Jun 19, 2012
Record label: Mute
Reviewing a Can album is like trying to describe the very first time you heard the Velvet Underground, or explaining what a truly superb pizza tastes like as it dissolves onto your tongue -- attempting to verbalize it just feels straight up contrived. The sole way to understand it is to experience it for yourself. Even more astounding about the legendary German band's unprecedented release, The Lost Tapes, is that these pieces of music were abandoned in the recesses of the Spoon archive for decades, unearthed accidentally when the band’s studio was sold to the German Rock N Pop museum.
Curated by Schmidt and Mute label boss Daniel Miller, these lost tapes—not half-hearted outtakes or unfinished Mona Lisas, but genuinely misplaced fully-realized songs discovered on old shelves when Can’s studio in Weilerswist was sold to the German Rock’n’Pop Museum—represent crucial psalms from one of adventurous pop’s most necessary bibles. The clipped fracas of “Millionenspiel,” the seaside scrawl of “Blind Mirror Surf,” the silly sonic boom of “Bubble Rap,” the grouch disco of “Godzilla Fragment,” the oblong jazz of “Your Friendly Neighbourhood Whore,” the nattering noir of “Private Nocturnal,” the gabby punk of “The Agreement” and a truly noxious live version of its kinda-sorta-hit “Spoon,” are just a few of the 30 raw-bone revelations found in this ferocious box. Get Lost and stay lost.
Towards the start of his book-cum-memoir It’s Only a Movie, the film critic Mark Kermode pre-emptively confesses that 'what you’re going to get... is a version of my life which has been written and directed by me, and on which I have acted as editor, cinematographer, consultant, composer and executive producer.' It’s a frank admission, albeit a fairly obvious one. Still, it’s a succinct reminder at the start of this review that, in the eyes of both the individual and the collective, that which we hold dear tends to take on an alternative, sepia-tinged history in our memories.
Radiohead, Primal Scream, The Fall, The Stone Roses, Kanye bloody West: the list of musicians who’ve sampled, stolen from, or simply lauded Can reads like the best bits of your record collection. Yet for all the praises showered on this ’70s krautrock ensemble, it is hard to put a finger on exactly how their sound has changed music. Their fluid grooves, twisted exotica and satanic sound collage seem to defy appropriation.
It's about time they dug up some unreleased Can master tapes. Every other band of their stature gets this treatment three times over, with or without justification—such a collection from the Can-on is a welcome gift. Even if you deem it superfluous, you'll silence yourself once the first track gets started-"Millionenspiel" honestly might have been made yesterday.
When the studio of ever-groundbreaking Krautrock pioneers Can was sold to Germany's Rock n' Pop Museum, the entire space was disassembled and moved, and in the process, reels and reels of poorly marked and seemingly forgotten tapes were found buried amid other detritus in the studio. These tapes held over 30 hours of unreleased music from Can spanning a nine-year period and including work from both vocalists Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki. Edited down to just over three hours, The Lost Tapes still includes an extensive amount of unheard studio, live, and soundtrack work from the band, and at its heights is as revelatory and brilliant as the best material on their well-loved albums.
Can have always been a little cagey about what is and isn't in their vaults. The received wisdom is that the German experimental pop group spent years in their studio, jamming constantly and recording everything, with bassist Holger Czukay editing the most promising tapes into the magnificent pieces that they released on record between 1969 and the mid-70s. They've always given the impression that their records were the result of grabbing whatever happened to be nearest at hand; when they've gone back into their archives for studio material in the past, they've resurfaced with outstanding stuff.
Can do: quintessential krautrock rescued from the archives. Wyndham Wallace 2012 Three CDs of rehearsal tapes, live recordings, studio jams and forgotten soundtracks might, in the case of most bands, seem like an overwhelming, most likely futile, indulgence. But Can – whose influence, like The Velvet Underground’s, grows with each year – are different.
With the influence of Can seemingly reaching its highest watermark right now, it’s somewhat inevitable that a long-awaited trawl of the band’s archives has finally come to fruition. Although a reissue campaign in the early-to-mid-2000s for Can’s official album catalogue put the group’s legacy into good working order with strong yet sympathetic remastering and repackaging, there has still remained an unsated sense of unfinished business; with most Can fans being tortured with the knowledge that the Krautrock pioneers recorded a mountain of material that didn’t make the final rigorously-sequenced cuts of the official LPs. Mercifully then, the demand for some more deep archaeological tape digging has finally been met with this new 30-track 3CD boxset, The Lost Tapes.