I suppose it’s an arguable point, but CAN were probably the greatest of the German kosmiche (a.k.a. “krautrock”) bands. From 1968 through the entire 70s and then a worthwhile reunion in 1989, the quartet pursued an expansive scope of avant-garde improvisation, global groove, acid rock, and European classical music. Each member brought a distinctive style that influenced many musicians and groups — Damo Suzuki’s feline wail, Jaki Liebezeit’s repetitive drumbeats, Holger Czukay’s pulsing basslines, and so on — although their generous, virtually telepathic musical rapport with each other remains their most important calling card. For this reason, the arrival of “The Singles” offers the uninitiated a handy introduction to the legendary group. Meanwhile, the CAN-verted (hey, this group never fell short in titular puns) will want to hear this anthology’s rare, non-LP singles (featured on these video clips embedded in this post).
We should probably acknowledge the asterisk on this release. If CAN are beloved for 20-minute length tracks like “Yoo Doo Right” and “Bel Air”, does it make sense to present the band in 3-4 minute single edits? Generally, yes. To begin with, CAN may never have been anyone’s idea of a pop group, but their recordings always involved post-production editing (e.g., listen to the outro on “Mother Sky”), so radio edits aren’t necessarily sacrilegious. True, dicing up longer tracks like the godhead funk of “Halleluwah” into fairly short snippets loses the originals’ sense of exploration. (Tellingly, there is nothing from the band’s debut album, 1969’s Monster Movie.) But a CAN-thology — see what I did there?? — of 23 tracks over 80 minutes makes a surprisingly effective party mixtape, capturing the group in engaging variations of audio space, motion, and texture. Also, “The Singles” highlights the charms of CAN’s late period — no longer mind-ripping, a little goofy, but rhythmic and charming in its own right.
Ultimately, a band with twelve studio albums and a continually growing catalogue of archival releases is necessarily a difficult thing to represent in a single CD. Nonetheless, The Singles is a fine place to inaugurate a lifelong journey into this essential group, and a worthy addition to the collection of CAN-pletists. (Okay, I’m done with the puns.)
A sociology professor living in upstate New York, Leonard Nevarez is patiently waiting until his kids are old enough for a family roadtrip to Maryland Deathfest. He blogs at musicalurbanism.org and is writing a book about Martha & the Muffins and the late 70s/early 80s downtown Toronto music scene.