Blastitude Number Three

  ISSUE #4      JANUARY, 3001
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GANG WIZARD: "Robert, 11/98 and other hits" CS (UNREAD RECORDS)
"Yowling and surly California improv." That's how this band was described in the catalog for Tape Mountain, which is a tapes-and-cdr's label run by one Jake Anderson. Mr. Anderson records music as Celesteville (see below...), and in fact plays in Gang Wizard on this tape. So, when he says "yowling and surly improv," he should know, and after listening to this tape several times in the week or two after Chris "Unread Records CEO" Fischer mailed it to me, I still think that phrase is an excellent way to describe it, along with a phrase of my own, which goes "hammering, confounding, harsh, droning, honking, boiling/bubbling/simmering, not-necessarily-a-good-time-but-still-rather-compulsively-engaging."
        If I'm not mistaken, Mike Landucci, who runs the Blackbean & Placenta label, is the founder and/or leader and/or most constant member of Gang Wizard. Another notable member, for all I know on this release only (I have a Gang Wizard/Ashtray Navigations split 7-inch that I don't think he's on), is David "Hertz-Lion" Cotner, who plays on 3 or 4 of the tracks here. Another notable member (plays on more than one track) is Brian MacDonald, but probably only to those who, like me, are subscribed to the Drone-On email discussion group, for/on which Brian is one of the more engaging regular posters.
       AND THE MUSIC: Surling and yowly indeed! In The Wire magazine, David Keenan wondered why "there isn't a Dead C tribute group in every small suburban town the world over." Well, Gang Wizard seem to be the Mission Hills, CA chapter, especially invoking some of the C's more frenzied and harrowed moments. It's that strong bad-acid kinda stuff, which might work best at a low volume unless you want to terrify everyone within earshot. Not that it's all lingly and suryow though -- it can take a while, but the musicians often forage their way into more spacey and subdued atmospheres.
       Also like the Dead C, Gang Wizard sprinkle abstract songs here and there among their free-form jams. They don't do it as often as the Dead C did on say, Trapdoor Fucking Exit, but more often than the Dead C does now. In fact, the vocals on "Crazy Persuasion" are almost goofy in that L.A. underground poetry-punk kinda way (and the song also sounds like free-rock-with-occasional-vocals contemporaries 360 Sound of Des Moines, IA). The album starts with an actual series of strummed guitar chords, and you can even tell between the major chords and the minor chords. The next song, "Candidates for Seperation" also features some chords and a singer who actually sings the title. Also, on the 'verses' there's this great sharp feedback tone that rings throughout, louder than the vocals, for that Modern Dance effect. The song also features some great garage-rock organ playing. It's the kind of stuff that really glues all the far-flung space-noise improv on this tape together. I've been listening to it a lot.

If you didn't notice in the previous Gang Wizard review (I don't blame you, ya can't read everything), sometime Gang Wizard member Jake Anderson, who lives (lived?) in Tualatin, Oregon, records solo music as Celesteville. This project has released a tape called Invisible Tape on Omaha tape etc. label Unread Records.
       I've listened to these two Jake Anderson-affiliated tapes back to back more than just a couple times in the last couple-a weeks, and ya know, I just can't help but think of them in comparison-contrast terms. (I'm such a geek.) Though Invisible Tape does feature extended sections of instrumental freenoise that definitely are in the "Gang Wizard aesthetic," this is a more restrained music, with words like "yowling" and "shrapnel" not coming up nearly as often as they do during Gang Wizard. The first song ("A Tableau") is just that, a song, but it's still black-tunnel music, a very slow, somber song, with strange guitar flare-ups on the chorus and in the zoned-out solo sections. Sort of like Gang Wizard crossed with Codeine (the band, not the drug).
          There are several more songs, and even what might be called "Lou Barlow-influenced bedroom psych" type songs, but they're much less confessional. In fact, I don't even really notice the lyrics...this tape really fits the Unread lo-fi aesthetic, as if he's not only singing in his bedroom but actually singing from under the covers on his bed, and the words are often drowned out by the distorted electric rock pulse he's usually singing with and the way it overloads the tape. The key to the songs is the atmospheres, which are more Kraut-y than you usually hear from Barlow-ilks. For example, on the second track, "Mercury," Anderson's vocals are swirled into an overdub stew featuring a cheap electronic drum-machine pulse, droning cheap-organ chords, subtle percussion, and sci-fi synth whoops and whorls. Jake's song-forms sink just under the surface of this electronic tide and float there, almost imperceptibly. And by track three, "Try," there's no sight of a song anywhere, it's just two free-form guitar improvs dubbed onto a four-track one right after the other, the second one while listening to the first one. It's good! I dare say it's right up there with "Lee is Free."
      It's followed up with another nice murmured ballad that sits in that sweet spot somewhere between Neil Young and the Dead C. And, throughout the tape it's never too long before the song-forms are abandoned entirely for long instrumental improv tracks that clank and burrow and hang in the air, like a sparser version of the stuff on the Gang Wizard tape. This is especially true on Side Two, which contains an amazing burrowing improv noise piece in which all sorts of fumbling sounds fall around a lurching retarded robotic casio loop. Here and there Jake cuts in some other tape entirely, sounding like him or someone doing wild tape-distorting piano improvs, but he always cuts back to the defective robotic casio loop. And then, just when you're totally convinced this is an instrumental, he starts singing a sad folk song over the loop which works pretty well. Then all of a sudden the music stops. End of album. I had to take it out and check to see if the tape didn't get eaten, because it sounded too abrupt to be correct. But it was correct, and I ain't gonna argue with ol' Celesteville Jake, 'cause he's pretty good...

Blackbean & Placenta
Tape Mountain
Unread Records

NURSE WITH WOUND: A Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella CD (UNITED DAIRIES)
Finally got to hear A Chance Meeting by Nurse With Wound, and hindsight sure is 20/20. This kind of noise jamming has since been bettered by many groups, like Borbetomagus, A Handful of Dust, The No-Neck Blues Band/K.Salvatore/S@1 posse, even Rake. Admittedly, NWW probably were the first 'post-punk' group to really discover this territory, and, as is usually the case with first-timers, their moves have become crude in hindsight. The sound of machetes hacking away at the very dense underbrush of subsubsub-subbaculture is not always a sublime one, especially when you're the first explorers to land on whatever shore.
        In this case, a musical shore, with the flora and fauna beyond the beach being 'post-kraut noise jamming on rock instruments and electronics.' The first track, "Two Mock Projections," is s-u-n-k SUNK by blues-wank guitar soloing by John Fothergill. The other guys are deeply burrowing into abstract electronics, but this guy is soloing along like some Clapton fan. Clapton guitar is even hard to take in its proper stadium-rock context, but here it's even worse because it's keeping me from the total abstraction that the other two much-less-overtly wanking musicians are making me crave. I know, it's supposed to be a juxtaposition, stadium rock vs. abstract avant-classical electronics, a sort of musical representation of the album title, but even in that context it's some pretty lame guitar wank.
        Track two, "The Six Buttons of Sex Appeal," is an immediate improvement, beginning as it does with some exemplary prepared gtr screech - a post-Incus Donald Miller sort of attack - though it is immediately taken down a notch by the entrance of a wack drum machine that might justify the "industrial" tag. Mostly NWW don't deserve that tag, though the feeble 'scary' Orridge-esque vocalising that goes on from minutes 4 to approx. 6.5 doesn't help. (At least it only takes up two-and-a-half minutes of the album.) The gtr playing is inspired throughout, never lapsing into Clapton-isms, and in fact, when switching to a more 'note'-based approach towards the end, becoming even better, and the madly programmed and stereo-panned drum machine soon rises far above the 'industrial' sound, aspiring toward the synthetics-gone-mad feel of Can's terrifying "Peking O" or the loopy, rubbery drum machine antics of early Kraftwerk, Kluster, and Organisation. "Six Buttons" ends up being a nice spread-out electronic-chatter jam, the kind of thing that lives up to the reputation.         On this more uplifting note, Side One ends, and I begin to see this album like a game of Blackjack. Hearing the first track quickly sink under wank is like opening a game by being dealt a lowly 5 card, but the second track is like being dealt a 6 and sure enough, the third track, "Blank Capsules of Embroidered Cellophane," taking up all of side two, is the 28-minute face card that gives the listener "21." It begins with a real head of steam: a bowed-percussion whine going against a freezer hum while Edgard Varese himself scrapes away on percussion - this activity chirps along for a while, and is soon enlivened even more by surprisingly adroit free-classical noise piano, something like Tilbury-era AMM, a couple years before said era even began. After another chunk of time the taped voice of a French girl starts speaking, not unlike an alien transmission from Keith Rowe's shortwave radio. Hey, you're thinkin', this is glorious, but it's a 28-minute track, and you just know Fothergill is going to go into some more prog-lick blues guitar, and sure enough at about the 18-minute mark he does. It's pretty wack, but by the 20-minute mark, thanks to some psychedelic mixing and stepped-up playing from the percussion and organ, his wank starts to subsume into the spaced fabric rather than obstruct it, and it no longer sounds like Dave Gilmour sitting in with AMM.
         And of course, Nurse With Wound has gone on to release some two or three hundred albums since this infamous debut, with Steven Stapleton earning the appelation of "the best selling avant garde musician of all time." I would assume much of the subsequent NWW work is less crude than A Chance Meeting, not that I would know. I haven't been contributing to Stapleton's best-selling-ness. I borrowed A Chance Meeting and I have to give it back this Sunday. The only other thing I've ever heard by NWW is a three-minute snippet from "Soliliquoy for Lilith," rudely truncated during the Napster download I used to obtain it. (Though three minutes is enough to tell that "Soliliquoy" is quite a bit less blunt than A Chance Meeting and I would like to hear the whole thing sometime, but it's not high on my shopping list.)

ADDENDUM: This just in! (1-25-01) From Chris Sienko:
'The "blues guitar" on the first track of "Chance Meeting...", at least according to Stapleton in an interview in The Wire, was not the fault of any of the bandmembers (unless he was lying or changing his story). According to the interview, the three members of the band (Stapleton, Fothergill and some other guy) were raking and beating away, when all of the sudden, the producer/engineer (who was basically letting them use the studio for free on an off day) told them what they were doing was "way out there" but wouldn't sell without a hook. Since they were kinda indebted to the guy for the opportunity to record, they let him "help out," which resulted in the producer coming in with a guitar and wanking out the clapton-esque blues riffs along with their klangenbangen. So, Fothergill may not be to blame after all, but maybe I misremembered the story, too. Personally, I think the blues guitar makes a nice contrast. The scraping/banging isn't especially engaging to my ears. Anything to liven up the proceedings. But I understand why nobody I know who owns this album likes it.'

Here's an infamous record. Celebrity nudity is always infamous. I think I've looked at the cover photo more times than I've listened to the CD in the six years since I bought this grotty reissue. ("Rock Classics" really does seem to be the name of the label, though there is a "Tetragrammaton Records" and a "Creative Sounds, Ltd." listed in the fine print.) How about I play it again, for the first time in years, and try to ignore the celebrity trappings and just see what's what….
         The record starts with ghostly hums and whistles that suggest a big echoey 'lo-fi' recording space and are probably 'noise music.' Then comes crashing sounds that are definitely 'noise' music, probably coming from the spring-reverb of a guitar amplifier being treated in a most indelicate way. Whistles and hums continue, and if the whole ambience was on a cassette by Chocolate Monk and featured someone from Deacar Pinga, Harry Pussy, or The Shadow Ring you'd be 'all over' it, jack. What does kind of throw this underground mystique is the voices of John and Yoko -- as soon as you hear John's cheeky stentorian British accent and Yoko's stoned giggling and extremely trademarked caterwaul/warble, all you can think of is
j o h n a n d y o k o c e l e b r i t y r o c k s t a r s n u m b e r n i n e n u m b e r n i n e n u m b e r n i n e r o l l i n g s t o n e m a g a z i n e i n t e r v i e w a n n i e l i e b o w i t z p h o t o s e t c e t e r a e t c e t e r a.
      But you never get 'that' feeling for long. After all, Two Virgins is 'noise' 'music', and it's a single 30-minute improv noise jam (even if it was split into two sides in its original vinyl edition, it's been restored to a single uninterrupted track on this CD reissue) marked by big stretches of dumbfounded space, raunchy noise in its purest sense, and free-floating/falling-alien quest-moves. Unfortunately every five or eight minutes something happens to put us back on Planet People Magazine, usually when the two are audibly trying to be 'themselves,' Yoko overdoing her fairly limited 'tortured vocalise' technique (her bits are a lot better when she's being subtle and quiet, holding soft gliding notes rather than cackling loudly) and John hinting at rock'n'roll progressions on piano or guitar. He's at his worst when he indulges his vaudeville/music hall/comedy side, playing ragtime piano and shouting out cheeky British things. He's at his best when he creates amazing buzzing/crackling feedback sounds, and a few moments where he proves himself even more adept - and restrained - than his wife when it comes to screaming.
       There's a lot of weird swirling sounds going on here, and it's hard to suss out exactly where they're all coming from. This might be lame of me, but I get the feeling that John is doing the lion's share while Yoko mostly adds vocals. Actually, Yoko might be running an analog delay pedal as well, creating primitive feedback loops - at one point a rather obnoxious one is going on and John says "Excuse me?" The loop shuts off suddenly and in the silence John says "Thank you." This sort of casualness benefits the record - it's a mixed bag, but it makes no attempt to hide the fact that it's just an off-the-cuff jam, which effectively removes the pretentiousness/piousness/purchasability trap that so much 'classic rock' is marketed with.
        Not that its a 'must have'. The possiblity of Two Virgins wearing out its (rare) welcome a bit is always just around the such moment comes during the last half of the piece: despite John's pretty good job at making a spontaneous shortwave radio collage, Yoko's simultaneous vocals aren't really coming off like a collaboration -- she's not getting inside the shortwave radio sound, it sounds more like she's just superimposing her trademark 'weird' vocals onto the proceedings cuz she'd be bored otherwise. Where in other places her trademark 'weird' vocals are exciting, here they are just a placeholder, and believe me, when it comes to improv jamming of this sort, a performer/jammer should never underestimate the facility of silence as a placeholder. I swear, I can even hear it in her voice, that she's thinking about stopping and just letting John play solo for awhile (which she does in other parts of the jam, to good effect), but she just keeps on going because she knows she'd be bored if she didn't, she doesn't want to just sit there and patiently be silent for the benefit of the piece….
      Well anyway, that's all conjecture, and I am definitely one of the 3% of all WASP-derived Beatles fans who admire Yoko Ono, and like I said, this is a pretty fine peek at the real freedom rock of 1968, and Chocolate Monk fans might just be ready to rediscover it. I'll let Mr. and Mrs. Ono have the last words about it.
      John: "It was midnight when we started 'Two Virgins,' it was dawn when we finished, and then we made love at dawn. It was very beautiful."
      Yoko: "It's music. It starts with a kind of pianissimo and kind of largo. And then it goes on increasing in speed as well. And then it goes into a crescendo and it goes on and I mean, that's music. You can notate that."

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next page: we introduce our newest columnist, the kind of guy you just have to ask, "how can you be so skinny and live so phat?"


KOKO by Jack Jackson