CAN: FUTURE DAYS (1973)
1) Future Days; 2) Spray; 3) Moonshake; 4) Bel Air.
There is a very important, but subtle dividing line between Ege Bamyasi and Future Days, the band's last album with Suzuki and, frankly speaking, also the band's first album where the very presence of Suzuki feels a little... out of place. Prior to 1973, there were lots of things you could call Can albums — psychedelic, mind-blowing, spooky, disturbing, nightmarish, psychopathic — but «beauty» and «atmosphere» would hardly be at the top of the list, unless you have your value system all mixed-up and highly individualistic. Now, for the first time, Can set themselves the challenge of creating a sonic world that seduces with its prettiness, not with its ability to align itself with the darkest strains of your soul. A record that is, in a way, a very direct predecessor of (and almost unquestionably an influence on) Brian Eno's Another Green World — without clearly being a successor of anything, because very few, if any, albums up to that time were made with the overall purpose of creating an ambience. Even in the progressive genre, most albums had a «plot» of sorts; Future Days is purely impressionistic, from top to bottom.
Although the tracks are still long, with ʻBel Airʼ occupying a whole side's worth of vinyl, it is pretty hard to call them «jams» now — there is very little sense of improvisation, and the emphasis is on droning group interplay rather than solos of any kind. The stripped-down musical structures of the tunes have lots of fairly common elements — for instance, the title track is pinned to a fairly generic Latin groove; at the beginning of ʻSprayʼ you can notice a surprisingly retro boogie bass line; and the album's only short piece, ʻMoonshakeʼ, structurally seems like a cross between ʻOye Como Vaʼ and ʻShakin' All Overʼ. However, the rhythm section of Czukay and Liebezeit still manages to remain one of the most inventive combos on Earth, and any «generic» elements here only exist in unpredictable combinations.
Most importantly, it makes no sense to discuss any single instrument outside of the overall context — it is only when the rhythm section is properly integrated with the guitars and keyboards that the record begins to make any sense at all. ʻFuture Daysʼ (the song) is made to sound like a wobbly journey on a magical carpet, its hems flapping around you as synthesized clouds chuck electric guitar raindrops on your head. With ʻSprayʼ, you find yourself on the ground, somewhat frantically running through an unfamiliar landscape as guitars and keyboards alike transform themselves into alien mosquitoes, carnivorous frogs, and other ghastly creatures. And ʻBel Airʼ's distorted guitar sound is clearly volcanic, so apparently by that time you find yourself out of the swamps and jungles, but gradually descending into the vortex of hellfire (despite the track's deceptively quiet and calm beginnings).
Describing these musical paintings in detail is rather futile, since not a lot of different things actually happen — while this is not really «ambient» music, due to its lack of minimalism and highly dynamic rhythm section, it is, now that I think of it, about as «post-rock» as they come, largely achieving the goals of bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor decades before they'd even formed (and, might I add, without raising suspicions that this music is being made as compensation for the fact that the people involved do not really know how to play their instruments: even at their most «static», each of Liebezeit's drum patterns or Czukay's bass lines here is precious). However, each of the band's members is equally important for the overall effect, with the already mentioned possible exception of Damo — his vocal parts are even more quiet than they were, and although he sings at least one very pretty melody (the "spinning down alone..." bit on ʻBel Airʼ), and generally shows himself capable of subtlety and even a sort of crooning, his presence is never integral to these songs. No wonder he left in between Future Days and Babaluma: his mission was almost officially ended.
I would not call Future Days as glaringly great as the 1970-71 recordings, though. There are quite a few stretches here that can easily try your patience, and on the whole, I would think that a bit of diversity wouldn't hurt: even if somebody argues that a tight, gritty three-minute funk-pop tune like ʻMoonshakeʼ disrupts the album's harmonic flow and feels out of place, it at least helps you put the disjointed pieces of your brain back together before the big one comes. The soundscapes are impressive and mildly evocative, but way too kaleidoscopic to stick in memory — where a master manipulator like Eno would always have a bunch of creepy riffs or emotional keyboard phrases to pick your attention, Future Days places too much trust in the whole and too little in the individual parts. In the end, its historical importance probably matters more than its pure enjoyability; but this is not to say that it is not enjoyable, or that repeated listens do not bring out, clearer and clearer, all sorts of tasty nuances in Karoli's guitar playing or Schmidt's ambient keyboards. It is, and they do; it is simply that «Can genius» is a bit more directly associated with the likes of ʻHalleluhwahʼ than ʻBel Airʼ.
On the other hand, Ege Bamyasi had already shown that if the band were to go on making Tago Mago-lite clones for the rest of its life, they would very quickly become a parody of themselves; and if they do not deserve our admiration for such a radical change of direction while still near the top of their game, what do they deserve? Well, at least a pretty strong thumbs up, for one thing.