Monday, September 26, 2011

Can - Tago Mago [1971]

I don't really know how much I can say about this album that hasn't already been said (which itself is a pretty cliche thing to say about an album, I guess). If you like Can you already have this. Tago Mago is the first in the 'holy trinity' of Can musics featuring Damo Suzuki on vocals, the others being Ege Bamyasi (1972) and Future Days (1973). It was my introduction to Can and remains my favorite. And it blows my mind that this is 40 years old.

First is 'Paperhouse,' which might deserve the descriptor "perfect slow-burn" more so than any other song I've ever heard. It is really one of the best opening tracks on any album, ever. 'Mushroom' is post-punk circa 1971, and 'Oh Yeah' (see below) is zen in the beauty of its aural production, gliding over a motorik rhythm borrowed from Neu! 'Halleluwah' takes up the whole of side two -- in the hands (and feet) of a lesser drummer than Jaki Liebezeit, such an attempt might fall on its face. But instead, Liebezeit rides a tremendous, primal funk groove that rewards repeated listens. The rest of the band is improvising for pretty much the whole piece, but thanks to the discriminating x-acto knife of bassist/tape editor Holger Czukay, none of the time is wasted and the whole 18 minutes is full of musically potent jamming.

Then you put on the second slab. Side three is the drifting, 17-minute opus 'Augm,' and here things start to get really weird. If the first disc was smoking weed, the second is mescaline, or something. But even 'Augm' might not be able to prepare you, young psychonaut, for what awaits on side four. 'Peking O' develops into the most intense, freaked-out part of the whole album over its 11 minutes, with panic-attack beats and keyboards, glossolaliac vocalizations by Damo, and a noise section near the end that you should really hear instead of just hear about. The result is an intense catharsis, finally releasing the listener to enjoy the last seven minutes of the trip with 'Bring me Coffee or Tea.' It's the perfect comedown from the psychedelic heights reached on sides three and four.

The song 'Oh Yeah' includes Damo Suzuki briefly singing in Japanese, for which not a single translation exists on the whole internet. Or at least, I haven't been able to find it. So I figured I'd give it a try. I have no idea if it is correct (Japanese has an incredible number of homophones). If anyone with greater Japanese proficiency than me can correct this, by all means do so, but here's what I heard:

これで底意素ばてる     [kore de sokoi su bateru]
Tired of this obvious conspiracy
頭のいかれたい圧     [atama no ikaretai atsu]
Madness pressure in my head

位置の上から小便     [ichi no ue kara shouben]
Pissing from above their position
我らがいもと呼ぶ     [warera ga imo to yobu]
We call on all the fools

LSD の真力     [LSD no machikara]
Pure strength of the acid
あ戯れ楽器を恐れ     [a zare gakki wo osore]
I fear the instruments which I play

麻がまだこんな異能      [asa ga mada konnna inou]
Marijuana has mystic power
幸いだ殊に     [saiwai da koto ni]
Feeling very happy now

See if you agree:

And here is the song played backwards:

One last thing: I saw Damo Suzuki perform live in Osaka last month, and the dude still kills it on stage. His band was made up of the local opening groups and he pulled them along on a 40-minute rhythmic pummeling the likes of which I may never see again. So if you see Damo touring around where you live, by all means go see him play.

Can on Amazon ... but you know you'd rather get it at your local record store.
Tago Mago  DMCA'd, but this one ain't hard to find