Friday, 30 December 2011

Can - Tago Mago


Forty years ago, Can - a five-piece experimental avant-garde collective from Cologne, West Germany - unleashed upon the World their ground-breaking, and in places, ground-unifying third studio album, 'Tago Mago'. Citing influences from previous jazz recordings and the earliest forms of avant-garde electronics, it became one of the most well-received and influential recordings in the western World. Bands ranging from the Sex Pistols, Talk Talk, Primal Scream, The Fall...even Radiohead, have cited the album as an influence itself on their own work. Quite fitting then that this album receives its 40th anniversary remastering ahead of a planned remastering of their early catalogue in 2012 - a catalogue featuring the early experimentation's of 'Monster Movie' and 'Future Days' as well as the ground-breaking avant-garde fluxes that are 'Ege Bamyasi' and this, arguably Can's most important and influential album of them all.

From the word go, it's clear that 'Tago Mago' was destined for great heights as 'Paperhouse' opens the album, smoothly swung guitar hooks and pattered drums accompany vocalist Damo Suzuki's soft, delicate murmurs. Can's improvisational speciality soon takes over, the rhythmic swings getting more paced, more energetic; drums pattering between organic and synthetic output while still holding tight grip amidst the song's cleverly balanced mixture of riffs, beats and Suzuki's continuing swarve lyricism. Once more the track in continuing development and change, the final section a lot more mellow in its output but still maintaining the band's sense of jazz-like flow - as stated, a key influence on the album's recording.

A perfectly timed transition into 'Mushroom' finds Suzuki leading the mix this time - a familiar blurb of vocals drifting atop a march of drum patterns and strum of guitars. This time however, the transition into the song's next phases is a lot more dramatic and, through result, impactive on the ear. Suzuki, once murmuring unbeknownst lyrics soon batters clear-cut lyrics through his psyched and charged voice and tone, before returning once more to the gentle naturism of his former output. It's a song that cleverly flickers between moments of hushed clarity and eager intensity - once more, the cleverly mixed pattern of guitar, drums and vocals - each swinging to and fro amid the soundscape - providing us a song perfectly crafted in avant-garde brilliance.

'Oh Yeah', more direct and to-the-point than its previous counterparts, does not lose any of the album's already built momentum. Drums quickly charging forth, Suzuki's backward-played vocals leading a high octane rush of guitar and drum beats. Vocals, returning to their former clarity - riffs filling in the empty gaps with perfectly tuned crunches of clashing - once done leave only a fine stretch of cymbal-fuzed drum clashes and electric-heavy riffs that make the listener's ears swing to either side of the mix board.

Later tracks 'Halleluwah' and 'Aumgn' continue this experimental nature of instrumental swing, Suzuki's lyrics almost monotonous in their approach on the former track, only for his voice to boom out at uncalled opportunities leaving only a stunned audience reeling in the bass-heavy beat of drummer Jaki Liebezeit's cleverly timed knocks and hammers of percussion. But it's the high-picked guitars that truly make this track stand out. Both [Holger[ Czukay and [Michael] Karoli - bassists and lead guitarist respectively - are left battling almost for dominion in the empty space seemingly left by Suzuki's voice (or a lack thereof) in the latter parts of 'Halleluwah' that reel the listener in on a sonic journey of hard-hitting notes and cleverly drifting chords.

'Aumgn' then introduces the listener to Can's more experimentally abstract approach to soundscaping. Reminiscent of early Tangerine Dream records, finely treated guitar plucks - drenched in a sea of flanger, distortion and echoing - are followed by drops of sudden piano keys and volatile violin strings, all amidst the hush of Suzuki's humming and effect-laiden voice. The track becomes a lot more percussion-heavy in the latter half, while still maintaining its abstract naturism. Once more, Liebezeit's prolific use of drum beats and percussion arragement invites the listener into a World teetering on the edge of implosion. It's a tension that's all too exciting and brings about a cleverly revealed more darker naturism about this record.

Naturism of this darker and more excited kind is revealed further on 'Peking O', quite possibly the most intriguing and out-spoken of all of Tago Mago's compositions - both structural and improvisational alike. This time, it's a synthesized drumbeat that provides the percussion backing, plucked guitar strings and wobbling piano keys provide a somewhat tense atmosphere to Suzuki's blurred lyrics. Before long, the synthesizer beat takes full control; faster, heavier now. It's tension is heightened further as Suzuki's enters into his most abstract and most jibberish form of vocal output, voice booming across the on-off playing of synthetic drums and teetering icy piano keys. Before long, the song goes full-circle, binding once more into its compositional form, hypnotic in its approach, dizzying the listener as a result. It's a dizzyness snapped back to normality soon after by the noise-drenched closing of guitar chords and heavy drums in the song's final stages.

Closer 'Bring Me Coffee Or Tea' ends on an optimistically mellower note, strings more widening and expansive than their previous outings, the occasional pluck or two drifting through the fog-like haze built up in the early stages. It's an expanse that drifts across all modes of musical emotion, clashes of percussion leaving pacier strings dwindling between an internal and external struggle - pace never losing momentum as the album finally closes on a exciting build of solid instrumentation.

Through this, 'Tago Mago' provides one of the most exciting and far-flung adventures into soundscaping that has ever been produced. Its ingenious discovery into the development of structural experimentation and instrumental overlay proves more than others that there is more to music than just traditional timing and heavy-built vocal structures. Forty years on, it remains as fresh and as energetic as it's first ever shun into audience's eyes. But more importantly, it's an album that very few have managed to equal, let alone top.
~Jordan


9.7

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