Can – 1977

Further along in this month long journey through great driving songs we’re still in the country of Germany. To be precise, Cologne, West Germany. The two songs I’ll review today from CAN one “Oh Yeah” the driver, and “Fly By Night” the meditative/homecoming track present two interesting sides of the same band. On one side you have the experimental, heavily beat-driven and quite forceful face of CAN that has spurred countless imitators. Then you have the proto-ambient, ethereal, and even romantic side of CAN that keeps being forgotten and not followed quite as intensely. No matter, these are tracks meant to provide insight into a feeling that is easily forgotten. The feeling of settling into a groove.

Off 1971’s, Tago Mago, another monumental krautrock album, comes “Oh Yeah” a prime distillation of the unique CAN sound. First, a blast of sound introduces the song, then you slowly hear fading in the inhuman drumming of Jaki Liebezeit, just pummeling away with machine-like precision, while Holger Czulkay’s bass places catacombs of pulsing bass. Its a sound that is very primal in its dance rhythm, one that feels ageless but then you notice on the edges of the track Irmin Schmidt’s sentinelling synthesizer drawing out the impressionistic vocals of Damo Suzuki (starting out sung in English but played backwards, then ending in Japanese played forward). Michael Karoli’s very low in the mix guitar provides bits of boogie interjection, and backwards phased effects that give this pounding track an otherworldly sound. All of these parts together just feel like forward motion.

With the metric ton anchor of Jaki’s drumming and Holger’s bass work, everyone else is given the freedom to add and configure whatever melody they choose to introduce to this foundation. The introduction of such free sonic space was, and still is, jaw-dropping brilliant. It allows even the listener themselves to jump in at any point and ride the sonic tramline (try to resist air drumming to the track!), or fashion their own way to chart some other course. Who cares if you have a different way to get there? as long as you hit the beat, you’ll slot right in.

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Listen to Oh Yeah at Grooveshark.

Now the opposite side of the coin features the total inverse of this track, “Fly By Night” from Saw Delight. Released at the end of CAN’s most inspired period, you hear the sound of a band trying to add by subtraction. Now, Jaki’s singular drumming is left in the background, Holger only contributes production work (seeding all his bass duties to Rosko Gee of Traffic fame), and the main focus is drawn on the two less heralded CAN members Michael (also now on vocals) and Irmin. Somehow, these two pushed to come up with something driven almost entirely by them, come up with this fleeting romantic ode to running away with a loved one for a night drive.

Michael knew he could never match Damo’s impressionist voice, so he in turn employed the unique command he had over the textural qualities of his own vocals. Never going above a certain volume he preferred to use a shifting tempo to set the mood. Listen to him sing a bit behind the groove, almost as if grabbing his loved one’s shoulder nudging them to hear the melody of the song. The melody is this truncated/refashioned version of the bridge of their most ethereal of tracks, “Bel Air“, a track urging a certain someone to look forward and not back with regret. This new track posits this fantastical suggestion through his cozy voice:

Fly with me through space and time
‘Til we reach forever.

In outer space, time is only relative to the speed you can outrun it. Seemingly, the faster you run the more light you draw into your horizon. Also, the faster you go, the slower time transpires for you. With all this in mind, isn’t it best to run away for a while? Who knows, you might just feel like that great time can last forever. When we’re with that certain special someone, heading home (physically, emotionally, or mentally), you know you’re heading in the right direction when you don’t even notice the passage of time.

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Listen to Fly By Night at Grooveshark.

Bonus track: Definitely check out the CAN documentary giving you a great overview of this immensely important band…

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