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Friday, April 15, 2016

Can: Soon Over Babaluma

CAN: SOON OVER BABALUMA (1974)

1) Dizzy Dizzy; 2) Come Sta La Luna; 3) Splash; 4) Chain Reaction; 5) Quantum Physics.

I think that I might actually prefer Can's first post-Suzuki album to Future Days, even if this means going against the average consensus. Essentially, they are continuing to develop in the same direction, once again abandoning pure jam power in favor of otherworldly ambience with occasional touches of beauty — but, while the sound of this album is a little more conventional, perhaps, it is also sharper, and there's just basically more going on than there used to be.

The album title is a spooneristic distortion of Moon Over Alabama, but, for some reason, to me it always suggested an association not so much with Kurt Weill's ʻAlabama Songʼ, but with ʻStars Fell On Alabamaʼ — there's a distinct shadow of midnight jazz lying over much of the record, and it does have a nightly, ghostly, slightly mystical aura to it, especially the first half which could be thought about as the logical nighttime state of the same world that we'd explored on Future Days during the daytime. ʻDizzy Dizzyʼ, the first song in the band's catalog to be domi­nated by Michael Karoli's violin rather than guitar (which he plays Stephane Grappelli-style), is particularly impressive in that respect — it's all about ghostly apparitions, as personified by the wobbly, echoey, ephemeral character of all the instruments: drums, bass, violin, keyboards, vocals, they all sound like they're there and they're not there.

ʻCome Sta La Lunaʼ and ʻSplashʼ complete the first side of the album with perky Latin rhythms, the former one more of a cha-cha-cha and the latter more of a samba, but aside from the rhythm tracks, nothing about the tunes is specifically Latin American — ʻLunaʼ is distinguished by oddly processed vocals (note: many of the technical effects on vocals are probably best explained as the result of Karoli's and Schmidt's shyness, as they had to manage without a separate vocalist), dis­sonant violin runs and avantgarde piano rolls that all converge in a ball of weirdness, like a naked midnight dance on the beach supposed to help the dancers find their inner self. On ʻSplashʼ, the tempo is accelerated, the violin and guitar solos become crazier (including violin tones so distor­ted that I almost mistook them for saxes), and the moonlight madness becomes more pronounced: the only thing that's lacking is a bombastic climax, instead of which we get a rather unsatisfactory fadeout just as things are beginning to really heat up.

The second side of the record takes us in a different direction — with titles like ʻChain Reactionʼ and ʻQuantum Physicsʼ, you know you're moving away from psychedelic nocturnal scenery and into the realm of the micro-cosmic. ʻChain Reactionʼ itself is probably the closest they came to recapturing the nightmarish atmospheres of Tago Mago, with acid guitar solos, chicken-scratch funk guitar borrowed to symbolize the unstoppable onslaught of particle movement — and, most curiously, the track's several crescendos always inevitably descend into sections that I'd call «ʻDead Man's Tangoʼ Variations», such morbidity and coldness emanating from those passages. As for ʻQuantum Physicsʼ, the lengthy and nearly rhythmless piece of keyboard ambience, it sounds almost frustratingly modern — draggy, minimalistic, bleary-eyed, pretty much the blue­print for the vast majority of Boards of Canada albums.

As you can see, the album is somewhat journey-like — with a more «naturalistic» first side like a three-movement suite on exciting, but dangerous nighttime life in an alternate universe, and the second side a two-movement exploration of the «dynamic» and «static» states of the little bits and pieces that form the alternate universe in question. In other words, I find it even easier to concep­tualize than Future Days, and I certainly find it more evocative: darker, creepier, more prone to transporting my mind to distant places than its predecessor. (For some reason, many people tend to really put down ʻChain Reactionʼ, but I think the abrupt signature changes alone justify its presence, and the only real complaint I have about the aggressive jam parts is that the soloing instruments are kept way too low in the mix).

In any case, it is important to clear away the perpetrated misconception that «this is the beginning of the end for Can» which is still being retranslated all over the place. It is, at the very least, a worthier spiritual companion to Future Days than Ege Bamyasi was to Tago Mago, capitalizing on its ambient/impressionist achievements rather than sounding like a pale copy of them. Yes, it may be argued that 1973 was the last year for Can to introduce «revolutionary» ideas in the world of music, but even revolutionary ideas may be improved upon with non-revolutionary nuances, and for a few additional years, the band still wrote and released worthy music that was in no way boring, let alone «commercially oriented». Thus, thumbs up all the way.

1 comment:

  1. The Trouser Press Record Guide from the 1980s, perhaps reflecting an aesthetic refracted through a New Wave/Punk ideology, actually preferred the mid-70s Can to the early-70s classic period.

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