Experimenting with Can’s ‘Tago Mago’

Published 10:25 am Sunday, February 26, 2012

Many times in our newsroom, conversations will devolve into silly discussions of music, only to re-evolve into serious discussions, stuffed with facts and opinions.
From this has come a continuing new feature that will feature reporter Jason Schoonover and photographer Eric Johnson challenging each other to listen to something outside their music comfort zone.
This week Eric reviews “Tago Mago,” by Can.

I’m going to go ahead and give myself some bonus points this week for picking the road less traveled.

Co-worker Jason Schoonover gave me six different groups for review this week. I could have gone with Radiohead’s “OK Computer,” but I decided that I should try something else; something that maybe I’m not familiar with.

Email newsletter signup

I chose the German experimental act Can’s third studio album, 1971’s “Tago Mago.”

One thing I’ve determined to be a must when listening to bands like Can, is that groups who earn the tag “experimental,” is that musically, you have to accept the avant-garde.

Can takes experimental and runs, creating, like most bands in this genre, something unique that most have probably never heard of before.

Can rolls through its songs like a band that has never practiced together, but has the skills to jam without effort.

Can is going to test you. If you’re a music fan who sees him or herself as open-minded, you may just find that Can takes you one step further than you are willing to go.

Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. You are going to be hard-pressed to legitimately recommend Can to anybody unless you really know your friends.

There is also a chance your friend may hit you.

 Dig it

I can appreciate the spirit, if not the sound of Can. Experimental literally means that Can can take its music and expand it outside of typical musical boundaries, and that includes the different genres that are intricately rolled into their songs.

Groups so often hamstring themselves and never evolve, change or even try anything so radical as changing their socks.

You really have to listen hard to find the influences, but when you find them they are oddly satisfying.

 Didn’t dig it

Have I mentioned that experimental rock is tricky?

You are going to have a small but strong fan base and do things that may get you mentioned on public radio at some point.

But you had better be strong in your musical convictions.

Can is a jam band at its heart, and that’s what the album sounds like throughout: a nearly endless jam session that challenges even the most casual listener’s patience who is willing to try something different.

Standout song

Personally, the album fought me. It just isn’t my jar of beans, but even on those albums we dislike there are songs that will perk your ears.

I was pleasantly surprised by “Mushroom Head,” which had a pleasing funk and groove vibe woven beneath everything else. It flowed well and kind of got away from the rest of album and its loose composition.

Final verdict

In this case, experimental just didn’t cut it. Chances are very strong that I won’t ever listen to this group again.

I admit, I’m fairly limited with what I like musically, and Can just challenges that too much.

But, I can at least admit a certain talent level and can appreciate what they are trying to do, and I would recommend them to those of you who are open minded enough to give them a listen.

However, if you count Lady Gaga as your main listens just turn away now. You won’t get it and you probably won’t understand it.