Can – ‘The Lost Tapes’

The Holy Grail of krautrock still tastes bloody good

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. Simply, they sound like nothing else.

Can released 12 albums, and a number of outtakes have dribbled forth since. But for the krautrock aficionado, the tease that 100 tapes of unreleased material was sitting around was almost unbearable: akin to knowing the Holy Grail was sat in a cupboard in Cologne. Finally, Can keyboardist Irmin Schmidt and band associate Jono Podmore have dug in, and the results are pretty stunning: three CDs drawing on film soundtrack work, live material, experimental segments and sprawling jams that show the workings of later Can favourites.

Moments betray their difficult ‘new music’ beginnings: see ‘Blind Mirror Surf’, something like the sound of an exorcism played backwards as someone fastidiously detunes a room full of assorted string instruments. But much is brilliant. ‘Millionenspiel’ is a scorching spy-movie squall. ‘Dead Pigeon Suite’ is a haunted, raw, 12-minute prototype of ‘Ege Bamyasi’’s ‘Vitamin C’. And ‘Midnight Men’ and ‘Messer, Scissors, Fork And Light’ sound like two of their all-time great pieces, the former all frothy synth and gravity-defying percussion, the latter a super-dense Jaki Liebezeit drum jam apparently stitched together by Dr Frankenstein. ‘The Lost Tapes’ is no barrel-scraping… it’s more dark magic straight from the source.

Louis Pattison