Song of the Day: Can “Splash”
Hailing from Cologne, one of the hotbeds of the late 1960s-early 1970s West German underground music scene, Can, are one of the most interesting rock bands to ever exist. They are certainly one of my favorites and helped introduce me to the wide and wonderful world of German progressive rock music (often affectionately known by the pejorative, krautrock) from the period. While I have deeply grown to love a great deal of krautrock over the years, Can will always hold a special place in my heart. They are one of the few rock groups I would hold up with the likes of the The Beatles as being incredibly important to the evolution of popular music as a whole. That said, Can have never had the mainstream notoriety of the previously mentioned four lads from Liverpool, though they are often viewed reverently by music critics and record collectors.
The group spearheaded an improvisational approach to music that had more in common with jazz music and avant-garde classical than it did what most people think of as rock. The core members of Can; guitarist Michael Karoli, drummer Jaki Liebezeit, keyboardist Irmin Schmidt and bassist/ tape editor Holger Czukay, were all incredible musicians in their own rights. Liebezeit had been one of Germany’s leading jazz drummers while Czukay and Schmidt had both come out of classical music, having trained and worked with infamous 20th century music genius/lunatic, Karlheinz Stockhausen. The group went through numerous permutations including working with American singer Malcolm Mooney and later with Japanese avant-garde vocalist Damo Suzuki (who was a homeless busker at the time that Can recruited him to replace Mooney), as well as long periods without a singer.
Can were known for their adventurousness: not only embracing influences from all over the world (including a series of pastiches of international music styles, released as part of the groups “Ethnographic Forgery Series”) but also new technologies and sounds. The group were also masterful users of the studio. Not wanting to be constrained by recording budgets, the group (which for a long time lived communally) but their own studio where they could experiment and flesh out musical ideas. Can‘s working configuration often included jamming for hours at a time and then meticulously editing those jams down into structured songs.
“Splash” is one of my favorite Can songs. It is one of their most jazz-influenced songs, featuring a lengthy group improvisation on a melodic theme. The cut is really a showcase for the guitar pyrotechnics of Michael Karoli (who could shred with the best of them and who also doubles on violin here) and drummer Jaki Liebezeit while the rest of the group add texture. The cut comes from the album Soon Over Babaluma, which came out shortly after the departure of Damo Suzuki from the band and as a result is a largely instrumental album. “Splash” is positively explosive, with Liebezeit in particular a force of nature behind his drum kit. While it is easy to get swept up in the apparent frenzy of a song, it is also worth noting the little details that work so well. Can were, if anything, incredibly meticulous in their musical thinking, often making additions that added new and bizarre dimensions to their already spacey music.