issue 11  dec 2001/jan 2002
page 5



TO LIVE AND SHAVE IN L.A.: The Wigmaker In Eighteenth Century Williamsburg 2CD (MENLO PARK)

by Larry "Fuzz-O" Dolman

Seen that movie Event Horizon? It's like the 528th Alien imitation, and it even opens with the Star Wars special, one of the biggest cliches in the book: a long tracking shot of a huge spacecraft slowly moving through space. All the scary action/adventure stuff happens, and then for the 'climax,' you've got Larry Fishburne (the good guy) and Sam Neill (the bad guy) slogging it out in a pool of fake blood like they were on the third season of Starsky & Hutch. You might not make it that far -- I did, and I'll never get that time back -- but there is at least one cool part (cuz we all know every flick has at least ONE cool part). Y'see, Fishburne and crew are investigating an abandoned ghost ship they've encountered out there in space (see what I mean, it sounds just like Alien). It seems the ship was not so much invaded or anything as it was possessed, by no less than Pure Evil itself, and there's a couple fleeting scenes that depict what happened to the crew AS they were being possessed. And damn, it's kinda nightmarish -- no fooling, the memory of it is making my skin crawl right now. The scene is VERY fleeting, mind you, but what I recall is a sort of shape-shifting writhing-flesh backdrop of nude decadent humanity, and a man, standing in cataclysmic pain while -- I swear -- a huge rope of flesh streams from his mouth. All around can be heard the very echoing howls and roars of the eternally damned themselves.
        Well, when To Live and Shave in L.A. are cranking on all cylinders, which seems to be all the time, and Rat Bastard's bass guitar noise and Ben Wolcott's oscillator noise are combining into one churning mind-dive frequency, and Tom Smith is delivering his dense archaic surrealistic librettos in a quasi-operatic 'free glam' tortured/
ecstatic he-man rant with a lyrical cadence that itself churns and repeats and goes and goes much like the noise and 'exteriors' the band generates...well, by golly, it all creates a sound that, for better or worse, depending on your mood, sounds a lot like, feels a lot like, or just plain is those fleeting scenes of horror in Event Horizon. Believe me, Shave music is a powerful scene.
       But can you imagine if the whole movie had been made up of that scene? 97 minutes of non-stop streaming screaming ropes of flesh? Well, The Wigmaker in 18th Century Williamsburg really is non-stop streaming screaming ropes of flesh, and it has a running time of nearly 120 minutes. Are you down? When I put this on one recent Sunday afternoon and the maelstrom ensued, my wife quipped "What's this we're listening to? Hell?" Funny I mention "wife", as The Wigmaker has been labored over by Smith and Co. since 1995, and in that time, Smith went through a divorce. It wasn't easy, natch, something he's written about candidly in online essays and e-mail updates, hinting that Wigmaker had more or less become a concept album about -- or at least heavily informed by -- these difficult events. It's no wonder my wife was a little taken aback; in those sounds churning out of the speakers, she was hearing for real a message she had heard before in a thousand pop songs for fake: "good lovin' gone bad." The Wigmaker gives an idea what it might really feel like.
        There's another reason for the hellishness of this sound, as anyone familiar with the Smith aesthetic and his manifesto-peppering career knows: he wants to be the baddest ass on the block. His essays dis everyone, from obvious targets like the Strokes and mellow rockin' Roy Montgomery to supposed badasses like Borbetomagus and Merzbow and The Dead C. He promises that the Shave will make a music that 'explodes beyond fatigued extremes.' Of course nary a single Tortoise fan will like this music, but when it comes to 'underground rock' or whatever the hell, Tom Smith will be "the better man." He is, quite simply, not to be outdone.
        I hereby declare that Tom Smith and the Shave have NOT been outdone. The sprawling hellish vastness of the 116-minute Wigmaker project is more than enough testament, even in a world where we've already got Norwegian black metal and every Jim, Don, and Donald is said to make the heaviest music of all time and even shit like onstage self-mutilation is over 30 years old. It's harder than ever to be hard...
and, usually, harder than ever to listen to the results. The Shave's response is to completely demolish the form of all previous attempts within the first 2 to 15 seconds of every single one of all 27 cuts. No wave, metal, skree: napalmed, carpet bombed, blasted immediately. Dark ambient? Snuffed out like a candle the moment CD one starts. Cock ESP do it, but they stop just minutes or even seconds after that immediate blast cuz their amps unplug and fall over. Wigmaker stays plugged in and wails for another two hours. Are you down?
        One of the first things they nuke is the rhythm. You'll know what I mean if you hear it; the rhythms are submerged into six years' worth of 'exteriors' (that is: samples, from records, practice tapes, other places). It honestly took me the fourth, maybe fifth listen to "Bled into Minar Thirty-Aught" to even discern Nandor Nevai's percussion, and when I finally noticed it I realized it was a fucking big-rock backbeat that I'll never not hear again. Now the track practically sounds like classic punk rock. I can even hear Rat's bass guitar distinctly at times...believe it or not, a first! I'm decrypting the mix, and in this new light, the track previous, "Nor Swollen-Bellied Comet Blown," is starting to sound like the obvious lead-off single, thanks to Mr. Velocity Hopkins contributing a very bad-ass metal guitar riff (complete with a whammy-bar motif), the rock around which the song rushes. (And, just to prove I've been getting the hooks on disc two also, how about the sample of an unknown punk-girl belting out a soulful song that drives "Song of Roland a Single Corkscrew Girl"?!)
        Yes, these are hooks, yes, these are songs, but with the next two tracks, "Full-Choke Wigmaker's Vise" and "New Poem Dramatized For Lux Cudgel," both 6 or 7 minute mini-epics, the rhythms become more and more submerged. The truest rhythms come from the very non-metronomic hyperspeed tape-edits. Smith's voice comes from all sides and levels of the spectrum, doubling, dismantling, constantly cloning his 11-page libretto (included -- good luck trying to follow along while you listen). Track eight is eight minutes long -- and there's still twenty more minutes and five more tracks. And then comes disc two, just as long as the first! I'll admit it right now: I do not have the stamina. My listening patience was trained by the average length of the vinyl LP, and what with Shave's ability to compress, say, 30 minutes of music into about 3 seconds, a three minute jam by them is like 1800 minutes of anything else.
        I should point out that I've never seen Shave live, and now that the band is defunct I never will. They played a legendary show in Chicago, at the 6ODUM venue, in 1999. I lived in Nebraska at the time and didn't make the trip, but I watched a Real Player movie of the performance at My lame-ass system/dial-up connection simply couldn't hang with the visuals; I could kinda tell what the band was wearing and stuff, but as far as following the actual performance action, I felt like I was watching La Jetee. The music, however, was an effing revelation; ferocious, kinetic, and electrified, it knocked the socks off of whatever recorded Shave I had previously heard. Clearly, seeing this band live is the skeleton key that opens up to a true appreciation of the what the fuck is going on in the recordings.
"Fills Mouth and Cunt with 'Pathetic Route'" starts with a dusty groove sample! Your crackling vinyl fetish is allayed. There's an incredible sample at the end of the song too, of a stately piano intro to a hard-driving sub-Beatles Brit-inflected bit of piano rock. Mr. Smith could make a great plunderphonics album. Audible Hiss already challenged Shave to record and mix their Interview With The Mitchell Brothers album in a single day; I offer a new challenge to Mr. Myth: an album (at least an EP) created completely solo, without any sound NOT plundered from a record. Or did he already do that, with the unheard (unreleased?) History of Duane Allman?
       In between these brief bookends, it's once again full-on plunging shouting noise terror. Smith's vocals are relentless. Tom really is as effective an agent of performed doom-portent as the great European black metal singers. The difference is they sing less. Hell, their song intros will be a five/six minute instrumental, and the verses, when they eventually come, will only be 20 or 30 seconds, a place-holder in between frantic and/or epic blasts of blurring rhythms. Shave does the epic blur, but Smith's vocals keep right up with it for the entire 7 or 8 minutes many of these tracks run. With his phrase-stuffed 11-page libretto, the man's got a lot to portend.
       Backing up Om's constant cadence, Bastard and Wolcott blare their instruments -- at first what they do can be incomprehensible, but eventually it can be heard as good old-fashioned punk improv, the frequencies fusing into a message of hi-energy full-on hardcore noise orgasm b/w scorched psychic warzone dreamscape. Surprisingly, this kind of punkish frequency-blend is the same goal that Borbetomagus has, and Om Myth HATES Borbetomagus. 'Tis true, the Shave's version is a tad more, shall we say, "white-hot"? Shave is intentionally too much, baby, their noise is to Borbeto's like getting puke-drunk on tequila poppers at a hellish nightclub with a pack of wild sluts compared to falling asleep alone, in your armchair, after three or four bourbons-on-the-rocks, a hard-bound book in your lap. I'll admit, I can picture myself in the latter scenario a little more often, but I'm a genteel sort of guy. After experiencing its initial blast, I assumed the Wigmaker would become a particularly intense but mostly hidden curio somewhere in my media den, tucked away in the same place I've got Kern's Hardcore Vol. 1, Pasolini's Saló, and (Christy) Canyon's Love In The Canyon. (Sorry, no Event Horizon.) That's what I assumed. But somehow, I find myself wanting to blast it every single day, especially now that I'm starting to hear the songs.

STREET DATE: February 19th, 2002


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