Holger Czukay - Movies - Review
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Holger Czukay left Can in 1978 and began a solo career shortly afterward. His debut solo album, now reissued, reveals an impish, cut-and-paste jester behind Can’s impassive façade.

‘Humor’ is not the first thing that springs to mind when you think of the music of Can. Power, darkness, intensity, sure, but even though the German progressive rock band used a can of okra as the cover image of Ege Bamyasi and released the punning 1978 single entitled “Can-Can,” the group’s sense of humor was well-buried under their muscular music.

So when bassist/producer/tape splicer/ shortwave radio manipulator Holger Czukay stepped away from the band for good in 1978 and started releasing solo material the next year, Can fans must have been baffled by Czukay acting like Buttons the Clown. But as Grönland’s much-deserved reissue of his debut album (now titled Movie! and boasting new cover art) reveals, Czukay might have been a merry prankster all along. There’s little in Can’s decade-long discography like the leftfield disco slink of “Cool in the Pool,” the album’s lead-off track, wherein Czukay’s heavily-accented come-on “Let’s get coooool in the poooool” might make you pause on the diving board. One can’t help but imagine how the wonky, lightweight ditty must have infuriated krautrock fans, but thanks to the likes of DJ Harvey and Prins Thomas, it’s become a disco-not-disco favorite in the 21st century. And for all of its skanking guitar and slinking rhythm, it’s a bizarre song, each sliver of space shot through with strange audio snippets, outbursts of opera singers, radio broadcasts and helium-voiced squeals. It’s like what Spike Jones & his City Slickers might have done with a disco track (the reissue's lone extra is an instrumental take of “Pool,” though without the vocals, it loses some of its charm).

The thirteen-minute long “Oh Lord Give Us More Money” halves the difference between between “Pool” and mid-70s era Can, Czukay teaming up with his old bandmates Michael Karoli, Irmin Schmidt, and Jaki Liebezeit for a long, serpentine jam. Much like their prior work, the band seamlessly shifts from loose and exploratory to tightly-wound in a single measure. But Czukay replaces the vocal space that Mooney, Suzuki, or Karoli previously occupied with a bevy of more goofy sound samples, primarily from cartoons: splats, slide whistles, howls, scampering feet, explosions. It’s a speedball of Can’s musical dynamism circa Soon Over Babaluma and Czukay’s sonic impishness; it runs a bit long, but not before making you grateful you heard it.

“Persian Love” anticipates the sort of sampling work Brian Eno and David Byrne would explore two years later on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (though Can did “Ethnological Forgeries” themselves back in 1974). Czukay builds a track out of snippets from Farsi songs and soundtracks, pairing the ululations with nimble key phrases and spry guitar licks. And while it draws on Persian sounds, the playfulness of the music surrounding can also bring to mind King Sunny Ade’s highlife, suggesting a willful blurring of boundaries, between Germany, Iran, and Africa. And the epic closer “Hollywood Symphony” is as shambolic as anything Can ever did. Liebezeit’s drums shuffle along while Czukay adds lyrical ramblings, layers of bass and synth, shortwave and more sampled dialogue (presumably from old Hollywood movies) that Czukay then interacts with. As Liebezeit’s drums goes into double time, Czukay goes full mad-scientist, adding synth squiggles and a dizzying amount of voices to it all, before the piece draws to an elegant conclusion. The seriousness of Can and prog-rock in general gives way to Czukay’s whimsical way with cut ’n’ paste, and on Movie!, Czukay acts less like a student of Stockhausen and more like Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Mad Professor, making merry with reels of 2” tape in his hands.

Andy Beta
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