Anything but Canned Avant-Rock
Tago Mago, the 1971 adventure from Germany's Can, is one of the very few essential albums to come out of rock's tiny avant-garde boomlet of the early 1970s. It is steeped in the experimental ethos and electronic sound-mangling that was happening throughout Europe at the time (check out Van der Graaf Generator, and PFM), but it's got a more assertive sense of rhythm. It shows a willingness to let the music be spacey for minutes on end; several of the tracks stretch out for close to fifteen minutes; they're riveting even when the Jackson Pollock sound splotches (and primal-scream vocal spasms) become grating. One selection, the nineteen-minute "Halleluhwah," is a psychedelic riff on a New Orleans parade, dotted with intricate improvised solos.
In 1971, what passed for radicalism in rock was either determinedly odd sonics, or unorthodox structures. Can, a five-piece then organized around the talk-singing (or shrieking) of Japanese vocalist Damo Suzuki, specialized in both. Its sonic palette included the glinting rhythm guitars that would later turn up in punk, and swirling synthesizers; on the tempoless "Aumgn," most of the sounds arrive shrouded in languid echoes and reverberations.
Tago Mago was Can's third album, and its best. Its daring aligns it with the Velvet Underground, while its sense of grandeur influenced such progressive rockers as Genesis. And the dense textures, which Can pursued more avidly on subsequent albums, became a key component of Krautrock (the Germanic progressive school) and noise-rock (its '80s derivation). With this album, Can proves that experimentation doesn't have to be impenetrable or indulgent: In the hands of musicians intent on exchanging ideas both silly and profound, it can be a thing of wonder.
Released: 1971, Spoon/Mute
Key Tracks: "Mushroom," "Halleluhwah," "Aumgn."
Catalog Choice: Future Days.
Next Stop: Velvet Underground: White Light, White Heat
After That: The Soft Machine: Third.
Book Pages: 140–141