Every Record I Own - Day 179: Can Soon Over Babaluma
There are few moments in the history of recorded music that blow my mind quite like side B of Can’s sixth studio album, 1974′s Soon Over Babaluma. The steady bass drum thump, percolating electronic percussion, and washes of synthesizer prompted a writer at Pitchfork to describe side opener “Chain Reaction” as an early precursor to trance techno. To my ears, it sounds like the four members of Can had read about disco, but hadn’t actually heard it yet, and they were trying to create an approximation of the new musical phenomenon. And while the rock-band-goes-disco thing is one of the saddest developments of the late ‘70s, Can warps the formula, dropping these unexpected moments of pitch black drone and tribal drumming into the heart of the song. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll completely miss the transition into album closer “Quantum Physics”, which initially poses as another drone fake-out, but instead unfurls into a nine-minute dextromethorphan trip of ghostly synth chords, murmuring bass harmonics, and pattering floor tom beats. For me personally, there is nothing currently happening in the world of ambient music, drone, or any other minimalist music form that feels as fresh, uncharted, and completely narcotic as the nose-dive into “Quantum Physics”.
People tend to divide the output of Can into three eras: the Malcom Mooney years, the Damo Suzuki years, and everything after that. It’s a shame, because while the “everything after that” era certainly lacks some of the magic of the earlier years, there was so much more going on behind the scenes than merely cycling through different singers, and disregarding the entire output of Can after Suzuki’s departure means missing out on some of the experimental German band’s finest moments. A more crucial change came after Soon Over Babaluma, when the band upgraded to multi-track recording, which meant the band would no longer craft their songs directly to tape by splicing together various jam sessions into finished compositions, opting instead to dive into the modern age where individual instruments were tracked one at a time. It’s as if Can weren’t particularly gifted songwriters, they were just exceptionally good at conjuring these fleeting moments of magic while jamming together.
Soon Over Babaluma often gets overlooked for falling into the “everything after that” era, but it still retains the magic of the early records. In many ways, Babaluma is my favorite Can album. Along with Future Days, it’s one of the two Can albums that I only throw on if I know I’m playing it in its entirety. But whereas Future Days has a very singular ethereal sound to it, Babaluma shapeshifts with every new song.
Get comfortable. If you smoke, smoke. If you got a drink, drink it. Then bliss out to Soon Over Babaluma.