Okraschoten und kraut

Can have recently delved into their studio archives to assemble The Lost Tapes. It’s not been received as an unqualified success; however, the mere existence of reviews of it in the broadsheets will hopefully serve to remind people of just how great, and important, Can at their prime were. I’ve written previously about Tago Mago, their first album with the deranged vocalist Damo Suzuki; now comes the turn of its follow-up Ege Bamyasi, released in 1972 and also a handy favourite of Nick Kent‘s.

In contrast to the freewheeling back-half of Tago Mago, there’s just one sprawling track on this album. Continuing the culinary theme, “Soup” is a far-reaching ten minutes that emerges, glistening, from a crepuscular swamp. A sudden explosion breaks you from any reverie, with tropical percussion giving way to one of the richest chord progressions in my recollection. Atop the usual motorik beat, there are inventive fills, half-patterns and cymbal clangs. Halfway through, it breaks down into a fidgety sequence of pinging electronics and harmonics that, if you’ve lived and loved Radiohead down the years, you will recognise as popping up on “Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box“. This passage speeds to a frenzy, and then the song (and what sounds like the studio) collapses into terrifying fragments of white noise, speaking-in-tongues, found sound, and broken instruments of torture. Trust me, it’s more compelling on tape—and better executed than its counterparts on Tago Mago.

“Okra” — Flickr user metaphoric

But “Soup” aside, Ege Bamyasi is all very song-y. OK, these aren’t for the most part conventional pop songs (though “Spoon” secured the band an unexpected chart hit): there’s still plenty of melted tape loops and acid-fried wailings from both Michael Karoli’s guitar and Damo Suzuki’s voice. But songs like “Vitamin C” ride along slinky grooves, and feature tightly-wound, propulsive bass-lines from Holger Czukay. “Sing Swan Song”, which dribbles out from a babbling brook, has a lilting, lullaby-like feel, with the lingering broken chords on guitar appearing to lag half a second behind the restless rhythm.

Rounding off a concise forty minutes is a pair of three-minute gems: “I’m So Green” could pass for a jangly Beatles number, while the aforementioned “Spoon” sees a primitive drum machine do battle with Jaki Liebezeit’s endlessly inventive percussion. The tone is reverential and almost heavenly, with stacked choirboy vocals bringing the album to a serene conclusion.

If Tago Mago offered untrammelled experimentation, Ege Bamyasi is what reined that in to the format of a roughly-marketable album. Maybe it’s less chaotic and, consequently, less universe-expanding, but that also makes it more approachable and, as such, more rewarding. And, of course, as with its predecessor, it had no shortage of mileage, providing many touchstones in the decades that followed. In particular, if you look at an album like The Flaming Lips’ Embryonic (loosely a double-album), the lineage is easy to see. There’s plenty of craziness, but it’s all pocket-sized, and wrapped up in comforting chords. We ought to be playing Ege Bamyasi from the rooftops.

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