Can, Tago Mago

Michaelangelo Matos

By Michaelangelo Matos

on 11.15.11 in Reviews

Tago Mago


Most monuments take on the polish of nobility over time, but Can’s 1971 album, Tago Mago, was always a craggy behemoth. Part of that is its relative obscurity for so long — a lot of Krautrock was only a rumor in the U.S. when it was actually happening in Germany, and there was a sense that Can’s unabashedly European sensibility differed too much from the blues-based U.S./U.K. model to really count. Punk helped a lot, and so, later, did late-’90s CD reissues. By the time Tago Mago turned 40, its place on the expanded-edition gravy train was obvious enough.

Always a craggy behemoth

There’s a desert-like ambience throughout Tago Mago that slots it mentally with the same era’s post-Easy Rider “looking for America/the world” road-movie spurt. “Paperhouse,” the opener, seems heat-tired at first, but two minutes in, the rhythm jacks up and Michael Karoli begins chopping away at his guitar in quick bursts; the song manages to both tauten and loosen up at once. It has the expansiveness of psychedelic music and the brute economy of punk, and it slides perfectly into the hazed-out pop of “Mushroom”: echoing drums, Damo Suzuki murmuring about having “saw mushroom head,” Karoli’s controlled guitar wailing.

Suzuki’s free-associated, language-leaping yammering defines this period of Can as much as Jaki Liebezeit’s unwavering pulse or bassist-producer Holger Czukay’s clanking, funky low-end. Czukay would tape long jam sessions based on very simple riffs and splice them into epic-length tracks that seem to breathe in real time. The rhythm section’s groovescapes allow Karoli, keyboardist Irmin Schmidt, and Suzuki to vamp and solo (as good a term for what Damo did as “sing”) invitingly on “Halleluwah.” Both “Aumgn” and “Peking O” go even further out, incorporating abstract noises, Suzuki at his least tethered, and tape splices that nod directly at the time Czukay spent studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen.