CAN – ‘Future Days’ 1973

 

The dynamic German underground graphic artists Ingo Trauer and Richard S Ludlow’s artwork for the front cover of Can’s fifth studio album, Future Days, features a couple of mystical arcane symbols full of meaning, and steeped in ethnography.

Both the trident and Hexagram icons found on the cover add to the prevalent spiritual mood that now surrounded Can: producing extra layers of connotation and interweaving mysteries.

The Hexagram, an almost missed set of broken lines type logo that sits beneath the album’s title, is taken from the Chinese I Ching book of ancient symbols.

Each of thes symbols is made up out of a series of sticks sorted into six broken lines (Ying) and unbroken lines (Yang), which are given cryptic parables relating to their individual shape.

Our featured configuration is known as Ting – The Cauldron or as Holding, so called because of its cooking pot like appearance.

The Cauldron represents the sharing of a well-prepared meal that acts as a ritual for cultivating bonds between communities. Ting itself symbolizes the provision of both the body and the spiritual extras: an emphasis that shouldn’t be overlooked.

The trident carries its own abundance of meanings and features heavily throughout history and ancient mythology, especially of course in Greek mythology with Poseidon, and in Hinduism with Shiva.

Hindu myth refers to the three pronged weapon and specter of power as representing past, present and future or the place where all three main energy channels in the body meet at the brow.

It also appears as a symbol of unification for the old Slavic tribes that once roamed the Ukraine and crops up in Russia as a rallying cry for the downtrodden to band around in their hour of need.

Encryption is not entirely necessary but it may help build up a picture of where Can’s mindset was attuned to during the making of ‘Future Days’, an album of majestic splendor and ethereal elevated beauty.

Indeed, you could say they were anointed with a heavy spiritual crusade, to produce a work of art good enough to be received in the highest echelons of heaven itself – the empyrean.

The serene shift away from the dance grooves and darkly esoteric improvised mind fucks of Ege Bamyasi and Tago Mago now made way for an exuberance of those much loved Afro-beat rhythms and ambient transcendental flowing soundscapes.

 

 

A much needed summer break of 1973 helped to refresh the band and put them at ease enough to create possibly their greatest coherent work yet.

Lets go back for a moment to the previous year, which saw the ongoing dispute with their former manager Abi Ofarim and the worrying near death experience of Michael Karoli, whose perforated ulcer damn near cut his life short.

Karoli luckily recovered of course, though not until the spring of ’73 after being out of action, unable to even practice, for nigh on six months.

Carrying on as well as they could, Jaki Liebezeit and Holger Czukay turned their free time to producing a record for the solo artist Alex on the Ariola record label. Czukay was also putting the finishing touches to his own solo work Cannexias 5, an album of montage sound pieces.

Irmin Schmidt meanwhile locked himself away to study obsessively, while Damo Suzuki just…well, just hung about.

Financial problems once again became a worrying issue as with no touring and little in the way of soundtrack work, the band where finding it tough to survive.

Schmidt’s wife Hildergaard was on hand to save the guys from disaster, rolling up her sleeves she acquired a bank loan, fat chance of that happening now, which went towards re-kitting the studio and setting up a 60 date tour for when Karoli eventually returned to the fold. This tour would be more like a workout then set of concerts, taking in the UK, France and the homeland all within the short period of spring 73, ending just in time to give them a brief summer holiday before recording started again.

During this period Damo would start to get cold feet and wander off, returning to his much missed Japan just before the start of the sessions for Future Days. In his absence the band began to start recording at the now re-christened Inner Space studios in Weilerswist, just outside Cologne.

This former cinema had been transformed into a purpose built was where the band had recorded the previous album Ege Bamyasi. New equipment and upgrades began to arrive much to Czukay and Schmidt’s delight, though there wasn’t much time to experiment as the new record’s deadline was earmarked for the autumn of 1973.

Czukay declined the engineering tasks this time around, wishing to concentrate fully on his bass playing duties. Instead a newly paid bunch of roadies were now responsible for all the lifting and setting up, allowing the guys to concentrate entirely on the task at hand.

Czukay did manage to still be in charge of editing and cutting – credit also goes to both Chris Sladdin and Volker Liedtke who recorded the sessions and mixed the record.

Damo’s eventual arrival – from a sabbatical in Japan – couldn’t arrive quick enough; already large swathes of the backing had been worked on and recorded, allowing only a small amount of room for his vocals and not as much interaction as he’d been used to on previous records.

Also his vocals suffered from a real murky low level mix, lending a certain ghostly and almost absent charm to the record that obscures Damo’s lyrics somewhat. Later on with the remastered CD versions these enervated vocal performances were amended and turned up, made cleaner: though this does alter the sound somewhat.

I can’t help but feel that his eventual departure was imminent when listening to Future Days: Can would feel a little lost without a lead vocalist, eventually having to share those duties between Karoli and Schmidt, though they already seemed to be heading towards a pure instrumental sound, and could have at a push, gone without Damo’s contributions.

When he does get his chance, Damo offers a guiding light through the epic opuscule, especially on the breath-taking odyssey of Bel Air, his repeating chorus perfectly encompassing the effortless allure found in the melody.

Future Days features only four tracks, three being over eight minutes long, with an entire side being bequeathed to the seminal Bel Air.

The title track speaks for itself and sets the general atmosphere and themes that are echoed throughout, the album’s ending more or less finishing where it began.

The Sun Ra invoking soundscape Spray adds some strange jazz and blues reworking to the album; an eight-minute display in the avant-garde direction, full of soul.

A short interlude can be found on side one with the Ege Bamyasi familiar three-minute evocative dance-like structure track Moonshake. Neither is it a companion piece to Tago Mago or an extension of the tracks Vitamin C or I’m So Green, instead Moonshake manages to sound fresh and breaks new ground.

Here its short stomp intermission finely balances out the symphonic set pieces.

Side two concentrates all its efforts on the glorious sprawling Bel Air, uplifting heavenly elegance pours out of every nuance on this progressively sophisticated hymn to the days yet to come.

The title is slightly wry, as this particular region is most fondly known as the affluent hillside suburb in L.A, mainly infamous for its celebratory residents hiding behind high walls and tight security. Founded and named by the oil tycoon turned congressmen Alphonzo E Bell Sr in 1923, this area was originally earmarked as his own rich kingdom to pontificate and rule his bronze wrinkled fellow spoilt peers from.

Did you know that it’s also ironically, and quite timely, the name of a rather unsafe and infamous slum area of Haiti? Though surely after the recent catastrophes, most parts of the island are now leveled out and share the same common denominator – fucked.

Coincidentally or not, Chevrolet made a pretty fine gas-guzzling model named the Bel-Air, which features in the James Bond film Live And Let Die, the same year as this album.

On the record itself this song is actually titled as Spare A Light, whether this is a further enlightened reference or not, I’m not sure.

Maybe this is supposed to be the albums overall message or a call for help.

Czukay sums up the record as:-

“Electric symphony group performing a peaceful, though sometimes dramatic landscape painting”.

Recording took a speedy two months to complete and the album was, after all the touring and commitments, released on time.

Again the usual plaudits and champions extolled Future Days, praising the slight change in step that the band had taken.

Sales didn’t match their previous two albums but they had managed to win over some new fans with the airy new sound and meditatively heavenly direction.

This record managed two landmarks, one the first to not feature any soundtracks work and the last to feature Damo, who soon married his German girlfriend and converted to being a Jehovah’s Witness turning his back on music for a considerable time and leaving Can for good.

A lot of critics and even fans such as Cope, describe this as the last truly classic album from the group, namely due to the departure of Damo, who added a certain focus and outsider dynamic.

Like many groups since and before ‘breaking up is so very hard to do’ and it prompted Can to perhaps look inward, becoming more introverted, lacking in direction.

Can would never manage to quite connect in the same way after Future Days, the chemistry would never reach the same consistency again.

The Review

 

United Artists 1973.Recorded during the summer of 73 at Inner Space Studios.

Track List-

Side 1.

1. Future Days     (9:34)

2. Spray     (8:28)

3. Moonshake     (3:02)

Side 2.

1. Bel Air / Spare A Light     (20.00)

Personal-

Holger Czukay – Bass, Double Bass, Editing

Michael Karoli – Guitar, Violin

Jaki Liebezeit – Drums, Percussion

Irmin Schmidt – Keyboards, Synthesizer

Damo Suzuki – Vocal, Percussion

Ingo Trauer & Richard S Ludlow – Artwork, Photos

Steam-powered machines and reverberating murky atmospheres in the mists, emerging to wrap themselves around the introduction to side one’s title track,Future Days.

The creepy, almost unnerving opening starts to evaporate, making way for an array of soft shimmering percussion and cushioned gongs.

Slowly fading in, the main rhythm section materializes at an articulate pace, shuffling along in a downplayed manner.

Jaki Liebezeit soon lets loose with his respective nod to Ghana, those Afro-beat high life rhythms working up a sweat and continuing throughout the entire album. Peddling over the top of these infectious grooves is the team of Michael Karoli and Holger Czukay, who ratify the African treaty of influence with some precise shimmy hooks and riffage. They take this worldly influence and run with it through an intergalactic corridor, stopping off at the most inopportune moment to return free fall style back to Cologne.

Joining the cortege of unabandoned soulful melodies that now swirl around the track is an all in sundry display of shakers and chimes; adding some sparkle.

A deft understated announcement from Damo floats upon the hotbed of rhythms, soft crooning strains of cryptic meaning unravel themselves over the course of the song before disappearing back into some kind of low mix ether.

Cryptic broken English pronunciations like:-

“I just think that rooms to end,

How commend them from their dreams?

Send the money for a rainy day,

For the sake of future days”

Backward meaning and confusing command of the language make for a mysterious unfathomable song subject, dropping in and out almost sporadically.

Now the unmistakable tones of accordion and violin seep into the magical mix as Damo moves over the congas, slapping them with abandon.

As the halfway mark is reached, Schmidt allows himself a chance to impress with a melodic display of surging swirling choruses and whirling shit storm echo a rallying call to arms. The tempo now quickens and Liebezeit raises the roof with his tight rolls and bursting cymbal clashes.

Damo, whose vocals had sounded like they’d  been recorded in a different dimension, now gets to bleat out as though talking through an inverted megaphone. His verbal like threats escape the cacophony of layers that have so far held him back; with menace the lyrics project forth –

“You’re spreading that lie, you know that,

You’re getting down, breaking your neck.

When doing that was breaking home,

What have you done, free the night”

A deep protruding bass line delivered from Czuaky rumbles on, low drawn out notes and disciplined melodies allow Karoli the space to pinpoint some celestial accents before the song draws to a close.

The final moments are played out with peculiar sandpaper rubbed sounds, which become louder and louder, all the while the bass drum of the real man-machine Liebezeit goes off like a rocket. He presses on the foot pedals like a jackhammer, pulverizing them into the ground.

Flittering tapes and Schmidt’s arpeggiator frenzied operatics compete with the now pumped up drums until someone on the studio console felt compelled to fade it all out. Only to have second thoughts and reverse his momentary decision and crank the fader straight back up.

Spray is more or less a song in two sections, the first namely a building progressive themed landscape suite, the second is a Damo led love ode.

Starting with the fraught shaking organs and attention seeking flourishes that emanate from the altar of Schmidt’s hammer house of horror invoking backline of synths and keyboards, we are party to a harrowing episode of simmering effects and bubbling chemist set theatrics, which emphasis the moody tone as the gothic meets Sun –Ra in an epic face off.

After Schmidt has so enthusiastically conveyed his sermon, Damo sets to work on the bongos, all the while the trebly tight delayed clash of cymbals resonate in his ears.

Czukay manages to play a highly amusing old rhythm and blues standard twelve-bar, before sliding off into an up-tempo octave free for all, executing the bass playing equivalent of doodling.

Entering this frayed stage is Karoli, who chops up some solid riffs and takes a gander through swamp rock, blues and even rockabilly, all the time bending his rhythm guitar around the loitering bass.

Drips and drabs of metallic droplet sounds bring in a peculiar middle section, the music dieing down for a brief moment as the drums fade in and out of obscurity. Dreamy guitar and relaxed calm bass ride over the top, accompanying this interlude.

Damo’s smothered voice can just be made out, he meanders through the multi-story layering of impending sounds and effects the best he can.

Ineligible lyrics find it difficult to stand out, though the attempt brings a much welcome light and majestic cooing interjection, moving the piece into a highly spiritual direction.

Schmidt has the final word with his ambrosial sweeps and rapturous oscillating scales of abandon, that spoilt fidgety elbow of his crashes down to sign of the song.

Moonshake truly carries out its title’s wishes, by shaking up the so far celestial suite of symphonic concerto rich songs.

This short wake up call acts as a momentary respite before we head back into the higher strata’s on side two.

An uncompromising jaunty dance track bursts in, foot-tapping afro-beat funk instantly grabs us by the lapels, even if were not wearing them.

Liebezeit conjures up a stalking infectious beat of repetitive sinewy snare and tight then tight hi-hat; the occasional crash cymbal interrupts his metronome trance like state.

Underpinning this boogie is Czukay’s melodic deep jazz bass and Karoli, who lends some Paul Simon type African bends and twangs.

A mirage of world music percussion is thrown in, cabasa’s, guiros and the djembe hand drums all make an appearance and are backed by some odd ratchet and cranking sounds.

Damo gets to lead the track with those vocals coming through loud and clear for a change, though what he’s singing is still uncertain.

The sounds close-knit barrage of ethnicity and sophisticated Afro-beat would rear its head on future recordings, such as the Saw Delight album.

Can transgress their peers by moulding dance fusion enriched jazz and funk to a long history of European avant-garde, producing an inert new German sound that no one else has been able to reproduce in quite the same manner.

Flipping over the original record we find the twenty-minute opuscule Bel Air, or Spare A Light as it’s entitled here.

We begin this series of four acts cinematic saga with the slow lapping waves washing over our feet, as the opening landscape is built up around us.

Karoli and Czukay both carouse with their lightly crafted bass and sonic exploration, gentle lush sustained plucks and harmonies waft from this partnership.

Pulsating soaring synths and seething unkempt melodies now take the lead, as Liebeziet gently tip toes in and taps out a sophisticated restrained beat on the cymbals, sometimes venturing onto some rolls.

Damo swoons and croons some fragmented story type ode :-

“And when nobody can say that you hate,

But then your story made the store right now.

And when you started to say that you hate,

You’re coming down to the start up gown”

Beautifully lamented in waves, the vocals act as a guiding lantern to this grandiose epic.

Soon a build up of toms and excited choppy guitars bring in a sea change, Czukay going into that free rolling octave hyperbole he does so well.

A hypnotic climax is reached as Karoli’ lightly phased guitar works up a funk rock lead in, straining on the last held notes for posterity.

The next act moves towards a more up-tempo dance mode, Soft Machine and Sly Stone mixed into a heavy rhythmic soul odyssey.

Czukay slides into a higher fret pilgrimage before running out of notes, returning instead to the rumbling undercurrent low notes that could bring down a plane.

Our oriental troubadour begins to free form lyrics all over the place, using his voice like a solo instrument, while a choral wooing chorus adds momentum.

Liebezeit beats his kit into submission, lifting off the drum stool as he kicks his feet through the bass drum and up the backside of Schmidt, who has not had much of a look in.

Crying guitar leads and hung over notes linger in the atmosphere, tensions now building towards a more serious direction.

As act three begins in the after glow of chaotic clattering and high powered rhythms, a tranquil come down beckons as we wander through in a sumptuous meadow and woods on a summers day.

Birds and insects interacting with each other going about their business, this chilled blissful meander brings us to a comforting pause.

In the undergrowth lurks a muffled inaudible voice, almost an incantation that hides underfoot like some disturbed green man.

The main theme starts to fade back in, with Damo now reinvigorated and freshened up after the mid section stroll.

Karoli is given ample room to display his itinerary of textbook licks, caressing and attempting a sort of foreplay, seducing the angelic melody of the first act.

Lifting synths and alluring sweeping layers now pour from the magical laboratory of Schmidt; he conducts the graceful composition like a high priest, all hundred-yard stare, interlocked in a battle between the greater good.

Liebezeit totally psyched up lets go with a fever of drums, barracking and rattling along a now ballistic fashion, whilst Czukay wanders off on his own thread, all wide eyed and dreamy.

Damo ready to unleash the final punch now repeats the chimerical dreamy chorus of:-

“Spinning down alone, spinning down alone.

Spinning down alone, you spin alive”

This chaos theory breakdown certainly runs through all the emotions, bringing us back down to earth with a ceremonial crashing bang before reaching a climatic burst of nodding nonsense.

Can collapse into a stupefied like finale with Schmidt’s long ringing out organ note: like a future re-ordered piano ending from A Day In The Life.

Liebezeit won’t give up the ghost so easily, those crashing drums still milling around in the final throes of these dying embers.

Just when we believe it’s all over for good, our intrepid band come back for a curtain call, the main heavenly theme making an captivating return before finally concluding on the last bass notes of Czukay. And like that they are gone.

The ethereal divine Future Days album will stay with you for weeks on end, ringing around your mind in-between plays.

If one LP encapsulates the greatest moments in Can’s history, then this is it, with Bel Air being there finest performance.

No excuse is warranted – buy this record immediately and sit back ready to be baptized in the glow of this symphonic triumph.

Advertisements

5 Responses to “CAN ‘Future Days’”

  1. aaaaaa said

    fantastic review

  2. Bob Tarte said

    An amazing review entirely worthy of a shockingly good album. Thanks for finding the words to dance around the ineffable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: