TO LIVE AND SHAVE
IN L.A.: The Wigmaker In Eighteenth Century Williamsburg 2CD (MENLO
Larry "Fuzz-O" Dolman
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.
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
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
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.
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
STREET DATE: February 19th, 2002
Larry Dolman Live!!!
Ranking the Anguses Of Rock!!!