Reviewing a Can album is like trying to describe the very first time you heard the Velvet Underground, or explaining what a truly superb pizza tastes like as it dissolves onto your tongue — attempting to verbalize it just feels straight up contrived. The sole way to understand it is to experience it for yourself.
Even more astounding about the legendary German band’s unprecedented release, The Lost Tapes, is that these pieces of music were abandoned in the recesses of the Spoon archive for decades, unearthed accidentally when the band’s studio was sold to the German Rock N Pop museum. What’s more, the three hour-long collection only represents a mere ten percent of the thirty hours of unreleased live, soundtrack and studio material discovered within the archives.
Compiled by founder Irmin Schmidt and longtime collaborator Jono Podmore, The Lost Tapes is essentially a time capsule documenting the band’s progression, collectively constructed into something altogether eerie, awe-inspiring and innovative. The inevitable influence of avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (whom Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay both studied under) seeps into the immeasurable tapestry of sounds, blending everything from Southeast Asian-influenced instrumentation to atmospheric scores of films never released.
Underneath the multitude of disciplines, the crux of Can’s distinctive disarray of psychedelia, drone, ambience and experimentation is bound tightly by the characteristic percussion of Jaki Liebezeit. The methodical drumming of the classically trained jazz drummer becomes the steadily beating heart of Can, emphasized particularly with track “Your Friendly Neighborhood Whore,” where the thundering percussion becomes tribal.
Varied vocals superbly complement the outstanding instrumentation of the tapes as well. A rare, evocative spoken word from Can’s first vocalist Malcolm Mooney makes a debut in “True Story,” sultry amidst the spooky keys. More emphatic and repetitive than Can’s improvisational aficionado and second vocalist, Damo Suzuki, Mooney’s vocals parallel the percussion, enhanced on tracks such as “Desert” and “Waiting For the Streetcar,” repeating words until they become interwoven into the very ambience the instruments create.
Standout “Midnight Men” begins with rhythmic plucking of surf rock-esque guitars behind sumptuous keywork, transforming into a surreal, forgotten dream. Single “Millionenspiel” is classic Can, roaring guitars amidst the harmonious addition of both flute and saxophone. “Messers” could almost be a B-side to the infamous “Spoon” with its unparalleled ghostliness. The exceptional combination of psychedelia and Mooney’s rasping vocals soar throughout “Midnight Sky,” while spine-jolting jams in the sixteen-minute long saga “Graublau” stun the listener cold and slow.
Despite its brilliance, The Lost Tapes is not for the complacent listener. The horror film-worthy “Blind Mirror Surf” chillingly evokes the songs of the undead, and the unsettling “Evening All Day” sits uncomfortably. Indeed, drones lurking in the background and atmospheric swaths of white noise can easily cause an unsuspecting listener to drift off into the supernatural limbo between awake and asleep.
Unsurprisingly, The Lost Tapes is a masterpiece in his own right, much like previous revolutionary releases Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi. Every time listening to The Lost Tapes all the way through, it’s as though the sounds are from an ultraviolet world, oscillating in alternating prisms. Maybe Can isn’t actually comprised of humans, but of an advanced species of savant aliens who landed on earth. In the meantime, that’s the theory we’ll be harvesting.