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Can - Flow Motion CD (album) cover





2.98 | 131 ratings

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3 stars CAN was always a hard group to pin down, in part because they made a career out of re-inventing themselves from album to album (and just as often from track to track). But at its lowest common denominator their music tended to fall into alternating dark and light phases, and this 1976 effort was one of the band's brightest: 38 minutes of pure musical sunshine.

It's easily the best and most varied of their later, Virgin-era recordings. And while the music is a long way from the brainwave grooves and iconoclastic Krautrock energy of albums like "Tago Mago" and "Ege Banyasi", it still hails from roughly the same cultural neighborhood, with a similar mix of eclectic influences, as always the only constant in the kaleidoscopic CAN soundstage.

Call it Krautpop if you want, and then watch fans of their earlier, harder-edged masterpieces turn purple after hearing the ersatz disco beat of "I Want More", the album opener here, and an obvious (some would say almost heretical) bid for a wider slice of the Top-40 pie. (The same sessions furnished an even more unlikely follow-up single: an up-tempo, dance floor cover of, believe it or not, the old Yuletide carol "Silent Night".)

All right, so this particular re-invention won't rattle your headphones like "Tago Mago". And a few of the songs are so routine (for this quartet of innovators, anyway) that it's hard to recall them in any detail five minutes later. I've been listening to the album for years, and still can't remember the melody of "Babylonian Pearl".

But even so far removed from the controlled chaos of their Krautrock roots, CAN was still capable of the unexpected gesture, like Irmin Schmidt's sudden squelches of noise during the otherwise unremarkable pastiche of "Cascade Waltz". Or the urgent industrial/tribal percussion of "Smoke", a throwback to an older, more dangerous incarnation of the band, and the latest in their ingoing "Ethnological Forgery Series" of sonic experiments: E.F.S. No. 59, to be precise, but the first to be featured outside the raw basement tapes of the "Unlimited Edition" album, released at around the same time.

Every CAN recording has it's own unique signature sound, and here it belongs to guitarist Michael Karoli. On the aforementioned "Smoke" he's credited with "background noise", but elsewhere on the album the sheer diversity of his talent is front and center in the mix, ranging from the fuzzy staccato of "I Want More" (a full decade before The Smiths borrowed the same technique for their popular "How Soon is Now?") to his trademark bagpipe-like sustains, and even including an enthusiastically strummed baglama (a miniature, three-string bouzouki) on the mock-reggae vamp "Laugh Till You Cry, Live Till You Die".

He even provided the cover photo, admittedly not the best album artwork in the CAN discography, but another small reminder of how completely self-reliant this group was, in both music making and packaging.

And then there's the 10+ minute title track: a long, hypnotic jam over a slow but urgent three-note ganja bass riff by Holger Czukay, always a sucker for that dubby rastakraut sound. Karoli offers something close to a guitar clinic here, with thrilling sheets of processed noise giving way to the sort of relaxed fretwork familiar to any Deadhead, and finally indulging in some crunchy Superfly wah-wah pedal abuse.

It's a cool ending to an otherwise warm and engaging album. Doctrinaire Krautrock heads might turn their nose up at it, but CAN, as always, has the perfect riposte, sung (of course) by Michael Karoli in the song "Laugh Till You Cry" and pretty much summing up the entire album:

There's method to my madness...

Maybe you don't see it,

But if I want to be a fool

Why don't you let me be it?

Neu!mann | 3/5 |


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