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12 October 2010

Can - 'Tago Mago' (United Artists)

When I found this copy of Tago Mago I was torn between this British import, with alternate cover photo and neat (but delicate) matchbox folding -- and the original gatefold cover we know and love. I went with this one to save a few bucks, in the process depriving myself of one of the most iconic images in the whole Kraut world, but probably snagging the more rare of the two options. This isn't an amazing pressing, or maybe it's just old, or maybe my stylus is just showing some wear (we are 191 records through this project, after all). Side one opens with 'Paperhouse', which segues into 'Mushroom', a track that really opens up and (on a good pressing) allows you to really hear the room when Jaki is cracking against the rim of his snare drum. Here, things are a bit distorted and the sense of space is compromised a bit by the inevitable noticing of vinyl artifice. Oh well. I used to somewhat discount 'Mushroom' for the obvious drug reference but tonight it just sounds magical - particularly the converging downward tones of the guitar leads and the organ leads. 'Oh Yeah' is the champion tune of the first side though, beginning with noisy, electronic filterbanks and unfolding into a bouncy, jazzy groove. I particularly like the sense of backwardsness that is throughout - maybe Damo's unique vocal style or maybe a bit of studio trickery. It feels like art that is erasing itself as it happens, trying to keep up with its own beautiful internal momentum. Overall there's so much more swing here than in any of the Mooney stuff, 'Soul Desert' excepted. I dunno if it's Damo's influence or Jaki coming out of his shell more, but 'Paperhouse' introduces a new lightness of touch that serves Can well, particularly on 'Oh Yeah' when the band will sort rise, like the crest of a wave, then it will break and shimmy out into every direction at once. It's a sense of motion that is far more open and free than Monster Movie's grooves. In the middle of Tago Mago, quite literally, are two side-long pieces. Both are behemoths, amazingly dense constructions that are (to me) what cements Can's legend. 'Hallelujah' you've all heard - a repetitive hook, bass-driven, that again proceeds quite dub-like through 1,000 transformations in eighteen minutes. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration but whereas 'Yoo Doo Right' is plodding and (sorry) stupid, 'Hallelujah' answers to a higher calling It rolls more than it rocks, without being any less heavy. In the middle it suddenly turns all Tony Curtis-like, but it's still the same song. When turned up really, really loud, it rips the roof off. But then, side 3 has 'Aumgn', 17:22 of Can's most experimental side. If you dig the Holger Czukay solo album Canaxis (and I sure do) then you might love this, though Canaxis's platitudes of calm are replaced by intense, screaming horror. There's dense walls of sound, upfront organ textures, blatant music concrete, and overdriven drum pounding that duets with a sinewave generator, barking dogs, and Damo shoving the microphone down his throat and moaning through reverb and delay units (just like kids do today, in basements worldwide). Those who want to dismiss this as mere fucking around should direct their attention to the last five or six minutes, where everything builds to a ludicrous crescendo before sputtering out into an assonant dawn. Gratuitous, no! It's actually one of the most accomplished examples of long-form rock experimentation on record. And after that, side 4's 'Peking O' feels relatively short (at twelve minutes). I don't know how connected Damo was to the nihilistic Japanese psychedelic underground happening at this time, but 'Peking O' begins like a companion piece to Tereyama's Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets. It's harsh, dissonant layers of organ, delay-affected vocal screeching that melts into a bizarro Casio lounge trip, a bizarre atmosphere that is somewhat plush animals and somewhat proto-Residents tone-squawk. There's swirling keyboard lines, bent jazz breakdowns, and a manic, Brainticket-esque pulse. It's the fragmented attention-span, non-linear adjunct to 'Aumgn's dense wall of cosmic energy. It's easy to get lost in the magic, but then when you think about the step made between Monster Movie and this, well, it's a holyshitohmigod-nobrainer. I can hear Renaldo and the Loaf birthing into existence, and the sequenced blast beats + electric piano noodling are a recipe for dementia. Vocally, Damo is showing how he influenced both C. Spencer Yeh and the Micro Machines guy. At the end it finds it's pulse, just in time to burn out and introduce 'Bring Me Coffee or Tea', which despite it's darkly impulsive suspension, can only feel like a comedown when juxtaposed with the last four tracks. There's a reason Tago Mago is considered an all-time classic and I didn't really just need to write all of this to further inflate it's legend. But sometimes a close listen, even to something familiar, is rewarding in a way you'd never expect. And that's been a nice benefit to this project - rediscovering what was never lost.

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