Monday, March 8, 2010

Can-Tago Mago

Artist: CAN
Album: Tago Mago
Label: Mute
Year: 1971

Tago Mago, nearly 40 years after its release, seems to still be the most revered of all CAN records. It was the first full-length they recorded and released with lead singer Damo Suzuki. A double-record, with several songs (in a row) that top the 10-minute mark, it can often seem like the most daunting of all CAN records, but Tago Mago is still the CAN album I love the most to this day.
The first LP of the set is relatively straight-forward, especially compared to LP2. Upon its release, they had released the album Soundtracks and one fully with original lead singer Malcom Mooney: Monster Movie. As good as those records were, LP1 of Tago Mago still sounds immediately brilliant, even upon early listens. My old internet friend Matt Stumpf always championed Damo Suzuki because he knew when to shut the fuck up...and really allowed the rest of the band the necessary space to expand musically. "Paperhouse" is a brilliant opening times psychedelic, lush, and it might be the last time the band really "rocked" during the breakdown. Finishing side 1, "Mushroom" finds the band in a stone groove, and "Oh Yeah" features backwards vocals and cymbals. The drum-line was also later lifted for The Fall's CAN tribute "I Am Damo Suzuki." The three songs here are all immediate, gripping, and psychedelic in the best possible ways.
The entirety of side two is devoted to the epic "Halleluwah" which for 18 minutes sets the tone for the rest of the record. The track is built around one epic...essentially two measure groove. Damo's semi-improvised vocals (I assume) form the initial backbone for this absolutely stellar song. Honestly, I can't stress to you how great all 18 minutes of this song are.
The second LP is a pretty significant departure from everything the band had done before. In the CAN Documentary, the band seems to take umbrage with ever being considered a "rock and roll" band, insisting that most of their influences are non-Western, let alone rock and roll. If "Halleluwah" shows how much CAN are capable of with one groove, "Aumgn," the track that makes up side 1 of LP 2, really flexes CAN's musical nuts. Definite Asian influence litters much of the avant-garde track. It's the dark counterpart to the song that comes before it.
Before Tago Mago closes (at over 70 minutes!), you are treated to "Peking O" and "Bring Me Coffee or Tea," two more superb tracks, the latter of which seems to find the band kind of teasing the listener with the thought it could become a straight-ahead song...but it never really does.
Tago Mago is a landmark and as far as non-electronic albums in Krautrock go, it's probably the definitive record of its genre. Parts of it are immediately gratifying and others take repeated listens, but once it sinks in, you can realize how genius the record is, and there will certainly be no doubt in your mind about CAN's greatness once you've heard the record.

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