On this week’s Indie Rock Hit Parade, we highlight the music and legacy of the celebrated German experimental band Can. To coincide with the release of a new, career-spanning singles box set, our show features some of Can’s best-known and pioneering works alongside a few contemporary bands who keep their spirit alive.
Plenty has already been written about Can and their unconventional approach to music. The band has been the subject of tribute concerts, archival reissues and art installations, and a multi-volume biography from music journalist Rob Young is slated for publication in 2018. Rather than reiterating what so many have already said, I’ll instead present a few of the modern bands who have taken a significant amount of inspiration from Can’s unorthodox approach to recording.
James Murphy has made no secret of his love for Can. In fact, he mentioned them quite prominently in LCD Soundsystem‘s debut single, “Losing My Edge”
I was there in 1968
I was there at the first Can show in Cologne
Aside from that bit of name-dropping, Murphy’s ever-morphing band makes strong musical nods to Can on each album (so far, anyway). The way many LCD tracks gradually built, recede, then build again is a move right out of the Can playbook. Many of the tracks that made it to Can’s albums were edited down from marathon studio jam sessions, often leaving the listener feeling as though they’ve been dropped into the middle of something that’s been going on for hours. “Watch The Tapes,” from 2007’s Sound of Silver, has the frenetic feel of Can’s early ’70s output.
With influences ranging from space-age bachelor pad music to French yé-yé, Stereolab were, like Can, a band that was hard to pin down. After the early tone bursts of their first few releases, the multi-national band released two of its finest records: 1994’s Mars Audiac Quintet and 1996’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup. The latter album’s title track features the ‘motorik’ beat, which is most strongly tied Can’s fellow countrymen NEU!, though Can used the driving rhythm on tracks like “Moonshake” from 1973’s Future Days.
British electro-poppers Fujiya & Miyagi made a splash early in their career with their own ‘motorik’ jam, “Ankle Injuries.” Though comparisons to NEU! and Kraftwerk were pretty accurate for those first albums, later released showcased a more experimental vision. Can’s discography operated in a nearly reverse; after several albums of otherworldly noises and ambient drones, Can’s late ’70s output was as close to disco (or, to be more forgiving, modern dance-punk) as they got.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the various vocalists who served tenure in Can over the years. Though American Malcolm Mooney was the band’s first vocalist (and would later return after a 16-year absence), it was Japanese artist Damo Suzuki who would take on the roll for the band’s most celebrated works. Both men’s approach to vocalization was distinct, with Mooney leaning more on his experience as a poet to deliver menacing spoken word while Suzuki’s careening improvisations rendered his voice as an additional instrument. Liverpool’s Clinic, singer Ade Blackburn in particular, use unconventional vocal techniques (not to mention trademark surgical masks) to obscure and distort the vocals on their records. Listen to “Internal Wrangler” and compare Blackburn’s seething delivery to Suzuki’s on tracks like “Mushroom Head.”
I’ve only begun to dive into Can’s impressive legacy, but I’ll let you take it from here. Below, listen to the newly compiled Can: The Singles collection, along with a playlist from the folks at WhoSampled that details the countless bands that have used bits of Can’s music in their own.
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