Can, Ege Bamyasi
Their most solid and groove-intensive work, with plenty of weirdness
If you’re new to Can, this is the best and easiest place to start. Containing an actual Top 10 single (in West Germany, of course) with peaks akin to Tago Mago‘s most pointed cuts, yet with little of that sprawling double album’s excess, 1972′s Ege Bamyasi is the German band’s most solid and groove-intensive work. Given that this is Can, there’s still plenty of weirdness. Opening track “Pinch” announces this set’s sinister funk tone with a feedback shriek and one of drummer Jaki Liebezeit’s most frenzied syncopations. While he rattles full-tilt, bassist Holger Czukay creates tension by holding back as guitarist Michael Karoli applies shards of broken chords; keyboardist Irmin Schmidt adds nearly imperceptible drones, and singer Damo Suzuki growls equally incomprehensible Beat babble. The result is an interlocking puzzle of rhythm and noise.
Post-punk and no-wave groups like Gang of Four and the Contortions, as well as countless current indie bands, would follow Ege Bamyasi‘s template, but this was supremely/uniquely freaky stuff at a time when the Carpenters ruled the airwaves. While most progressive rock peers supplied head trips to stoned fans who couldn’t get up from their bean-bag chairs, Can created full-body psychedelia for the discos of tomorrow. “Sing Swan Song” provides a respite ballad and the second half of “Soup” thoroughly freaks out, but the rest ranks among the most radical dance music of the ’70s — so radical that it would take decades to find sympathetic club DJs beyond German boarders. The first Can album to get a US release, Ege Bamyasi nevertheless ended up in bargain bins.
This is Liebezeit’s greatest work, and while he plays like the maestro that he is, the others seem bent on unlearning their chops, although few of the non-musicians Can inspired could ever summon the restraint of “One More Night.” Like Picasso approximating a caveman’s scrawl, Can’s savagery is rendered with skill. The guitars, the keyboards, even Suzuki’s feral vocals are rendered as if they were percussion. In “Vitamin C,” everything becomes a drum, and while “I’m So Green” introduces the Madchester sound nearly two decades before Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses, the German gangster TV show theme and resulting pop hit “Spoon” takes Sly Stone’s contemporaneous experimentation with crude early drum machines and marries it to pseudo-Arabic rock exotica — the beginnings of what Can would later name its Ethnological Forgery Series.