Wrapping up our reviews of Can’s finest albums (we’ve done Tago Mago and Future Days already), we have the jazzy, avant-funk, psychedelic, and experimental Ege Bamyasi. We’ve no idea what that means, but the album still manages to contain some of the band’s finest moments, including the wonderful Vitamin C (which has, in recent years, been featured in hit films and TV shows) and Spoon.
Consisting of seven tracks, this was a double LP back in 1972. Can is considered the godfather of indie and you can hear why with this one, but the Krautrock band allowed its experimentation to vary wildly (such as with the often blisteringly full early work). Ege Bamyasi is a distinctly more soothing album than predecessor Tago Mago, which paved the way for the bubbling mass of brilliance Future Days, which I consider Can’s best album. The groundwork was put down here, though, with some surprisingly catchy tracks based on more traditional song structures.
With a can of okra stamped all over the front cover, album opener Pinch certainly is not traditional and is, in fact, one of Ege Bamyasi’s few weak moments. It’s overlong at nine minutes and is a free-form and funky bit of experimentation. Thankfully, it stops and then we have some truly inspired music – Sing Swan Song is next up and this is a beautiful, graceful piece of music which always reminds us of Bayou Boogie from Donkey Kong Country 2, for some reason.
Going forward, the band’s musical shift is clear. Song structures become increasingly melodic and the thunderous nature of Tago Mago is replaced with a mixture of jazz, funk, and psychedelia. Singer Damo Suzuki is put to particularly good use as his harmonic voice and quirky lyrics are a joy to listen to, which is complemented throughout by the atrociously underrated guitarist Michael Karoli and his subtle, but always brilliant, contributions.
After this, the album descends into catchier and groovier songs, with I’m So Green (which would be an excellent calling song for Greenpeace or the Green Party here in England, we think) and One More Night gliding by with their loveliness. Progress is spoiled somewhat by Soup, which was probably quite daring at the time, but comes across as pointless noise now and represents the band at their unfocused worst. It’s still nowhere near as bad as rap music.
Thankfully, things jolt violently back on track with the wonderful Vitamin C which appears to end with a Russian folk music jaunt. It features a drumming masterclass from Jaki Liebezeit as he punches out some funky kicks and nervous, rapid fire bass drum beats (almost as if the drummer has a nervous disposition through a lack of vitamin c) – it’s a nod to his jazz drummer roots and a clear demonstration of his absolute perfection as a drummer, but the song also displays the band working perfectly as a unit to produce something exceptional. Here’s a short clip on how they all managed to join together and form such a unique sound.
Finally, we have Spoon rounding everything off – it’s a brilliantly upbeat, surreal, psychedelic little number with a soaring chorus and sublime bleeps and bloops going on in the background. There’s yet another brilliant piece of drumming from Liebezeit, with suitable crashes and whallops off cymbals as Spoon boops its way to its conclusion.
As with most Can songs, you can’t really make out the lyrics (the band made the decision early on in their existence to sing in English, rather than their native German), although this seems to have been down to two reasons: One – they wanted it this way as they had an international audience. Two – Suzuki’s English has never been perfect and due to his accent it’s quite difficult to make out what he’s saying.
When collected together this is a wonderful album – Ege Bamyasi provides far more hits than misses, with multiple classics and high points including timeless genius in the form of Vitamin C, Spoon, and Sing Swan Song. It’s a slight album, at barely 40 minutes, but it remains a daring, bold, and uplifting addition to anyone’s music library.