Album: Can, The Lost Tapes 1968-1975 (Spoon/Mute)

Classic krautrock collection makes for a real find

Culled from some 50 hours of tapes retrieved from their former studio near Cologne, this 3CD set is a fantastic collection of unreleased material from one of the most important bands of the last century.

Can were the archetypal "krautrock" group – ironically, given that much of their best work featured either Malcolm Mooney, an American, or Damo Suzuki, from Japan, as vocalists. Students of Stockhausen, blessed with renegade jazz and classical chops, and fully aware of the possibilities opened up by John Cage, they brought a feverishly questing spirit to rock music.

Rather than the blues roots underpinning most Anglo-American rock, they drew on minimalism, serialism, the churning motor-pulse of the Velvet Underground, and ethnic strains then unheard in Western pop. The result was some of the most striking, individual music ever made. The earliest pieces included here, such as "Millionenspiel", find them forging a unique sound already at an acute angle to the prevailing British and US modes, using drummer Jaki Liebezeit's urgent, metronomic beats to carry startling sonic excursions of guitar and organ. They worked best as a unit, improvising collectively to find the synergistic core of an idea: by their own admission, the "freedom" subsequently afforded by multi-track overdubbing leached that power from their later recordings.

But these recordings are pure Can at their most potent, with menacing, mantra-like chants alongside fractured ambient soundscapes, "aural meditations" and crunching psych-rock riffing. In some tracks can be glimpsed the youthful stages of later Can classics such as "Vitamin C", "Sing Swan Song" and "Vernal Equinox", while the use of certain sounds and tones allows one to date other works fairly precisely, as in the tremulous organ tone that fixes "Abra Cada Braxas" firmly in the Future Days era; and there are devastating live versions of favourites like "Spoon".

Yet despite restlessly exploring hitherto untrodden musical terrain, there are precious few wasted seconds in these three hours. We shall not hear their like again.

Download: Millionenspiel; Dead Pigeon Suite; Abra Cada Braxas; Midnight Men

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