Can – The Lost Tapes (boxset)

Can – The Lost Tapes

With the influence of Can seemingly reaching its highest watermark right now, it’s somewhat inevitable that a long-awaited trawl of the band’s archives has finally come to fruition.  Although a reissue campaign in the early-to-mid-2000s for Can’s official album catalogue put the group’s legacy into good working order with strong yet sympathetic remastering and repackaging, there has still remained an unsated sense of unfinished business; with most Can fans being tortured with the knowledge that the Krautrock pioneers recorded a mountain of material that didn’t make the final rigorously-sequenced cuts of the official LPs. Mercifully then, the demand for some more deep archaeological tape digging has finally been met with this new 30-track 3CD boxset, The Lost Tapes.

Compiled from material birthed between 1968 and 1975 – that includes film soundtrack extracts, work-in-progress versions of album tracks, studio experiments, carefully stitched-together misplaced fragments, elemental jams, fully-realised standalone compositions and live recordings – The Lost Tapes runs in parallel to and complements the main Can canon.  Like previous archive-based sets from the band – notably Delay 1968 and Unlimited Edition – whilst many of the compiled tracks are unmistakably Can there are some intriguing diversions that reveal even greater sonic breadth than we’ve previously known during and after the group’s decade or so existence.

Given that the boxset has been sequenced more for flow than chronology plotting, perhaps the only way to analysis it all is via a down disc-by-disc breakdown.

Disc one brings together some of the rawest and most spacious pieces.  Followers who have previously loved the fusion of free-form beat poetry from short-lived first vocalist Malcom Mooney with the adrenalized expansive garage-rock found on Delay 1968 and 1969’s Monster Movie will be in aural awe of the searing mantra-like “Waiting For The Streetcar” and the pummelling motorik “Deadly Doris.”  The blisteringly intense 16+ minutes of the wordless “Graublau” magnificently capture the interlocking rubbery rhythms of bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit underpinning the meticulous flexible fretwork of guitarist Michael Karoli and the dextrous keyboard-playing of Irmin Schmidt.  Elsewhere, more nuanced sides of the Can muse are unveiled by the gently unfurling Velvet Underground & Nico-referencing “Oscura Primavera” and eerie ambience of “Evening All Day.”  A handful of things feel a little too unfinished or patchy – specifically the gothic Mooney-led “When Darkness Comes,” the unhinged found-sound tape collage of “Blind Mirror Surf” and the messy squalling Damo Suzuki-voiced “Bubble Rap” – but the magnificent multi-part instrumental “Millionenspiel” more than makes up for such minor quality dips with its sublime segue of atmospherics, pastoralism and space-rock propulsion.

The second volume within the collection corrals compositions that reveal Can’s gifts for impervious democratic grooves and layered studio experimentations.  Hence, two of the four remaining Mooney-led pieces – “Your Friendly Neighbourhood Whore” and “Midnight Sky” – rely less on primal rock dynamics and more on rhythmic interlacing and the delicious “A Swan Is Born” surrounds Suzuki’s vocals in slinky jazz-like interplay.  Beautifully representing Can’s more immersive recording investigations comes the all too short Four Tet-predicating folktronica of “The Loop,” the frequently gorgeous filmic score montage of “Dead Pigeon Suite” and the minimalistic Mooney-led twosome of “Desert” and “True Story.”  Less effective are the unnecessary live version of “Spoon,” the daft toilet-break field recording of “The Agreement” and the unfocused “Abra Cada Braxas.”

The final disc proffers a blend of Can as both brutal stage-centric behemoths and highly-proficient multi-culturist artisans.  Thus, live or performance-friendly material frames a more studio-centric core on this closing compendium; with the dense “Godzilla Fragment” and a throbbing “On The Way To Mother Sky” being the most worthwhile on the former front.  Largely sandwiched in the centre is some impressively infectious space-funk (“Messers, Scissors, Fork and Light” and “Barnacles”), successful synth-dominated adventuring (“Midnight Men”), tropical percussion detouring (“E.F.S 108”) and some evocative Eno-meets-Pink Floyd soundscaping (“Private Nocturnal” and “Alice”).  The third disc certainly points at directions that Can could/should have explored more on late-‘70s long-players to counteract the laws of diminishing returns.

Although The Lost Tape might lack some consistency in places and the live material might have been better served on a separate collection, overall this is a richly rewarding treasure trove for the ever increasing number of Can fanatics across the globe to hunt down immediately and devour