Amps for Christ: The Secret of the Almost Straight Line 7″ EP (Westside Audio Laboratories)
Barnes was the man behind Man is the Bastard’s gruesome and gigantic howl (they almost made me give up meat; no, I’m MORE cynical than you are). Here the pain comes back as love. These shimmering musical fragments (“Pure Hammond”; “1–2 Stomp”) are angels’ harps, built from junkyard skeletons, in action; the opposite of trance music.
Atari Teenage Riot: Burn, Berlin, Burn! CD (Grand Royal)
Just one of the dizzying, delicious things about this record is how uncool it is. That is to say that it’s over the top, unfocused, viciously self-righteous, pounding, insistent, and annoying, which is everything that our knowing, ironic pop culture and its bullshit self-confidence would rather look away from. It’s as if all the Generation X ambivalence came back as disturbingly unfocused rage—pounding hateful generic thrash that we’re all supposed to have listened to in “the eighties” (I think you were in a room with Thomas Dolby at the time) and as if its eagerness for hip new products came back as a desire to chew paint off walls; ATR’s closeness to Oi (the massive ripoff of Sham 69[they were an oi band]’s “If the Kids Are United”; the chanting and shouting), Death (the massive ripoff of Slayer[they are a Death Metal band]’s “Angel of Death” [it was about Mengele; he was a Nazi doctor; do you remember the Nazis? They were the villains in Schindler’s List], recast as a scheme of classification on “Into the Death” [a simple list: 1) fight! 2) war! 3) fire! 4) violence! 5) death! 6) TV! 7) police! 8) FUCK YOU!!!!!!!!!]), punk rock (“Sick to Death” loops not one but two Users [they were 12-foot-tall dancing gay street urchins] riffs, “Sick of You” and “Decadent Jew,” into a giddy realization: Revulsion and disgust are sources of power), hardcore (who cares if “Fuck All” is peeled, stem to stern, from the Bad Brains’ [potsmoking Rasta jazz musicians who whipped the little white kids’ asses at playing fast and loud] “Pay to Cum”; after all, they were just stealing the little white kids’ culture!), Techno (whatever), all combine to make them a little too preachy (though nobody was quite sure what they were preaching and they used the phrase well, anyway in the middle of their supposed political platforms, as if their ideas were forming at the same time as the music or that Godforfuckingbid they understood irony and confusion as well as you do) and insistent (they probably hate you) for your average, gentle Tortoise [a great murky studio production outfit with a lot of silly fans, much like Sean Puffy Combs] fan. Most embarassing of all, this music’s incredibly complicated and confusing, and they mean all of it and they’re right. Record of the motherfucking century.
Behead the Prophet No Lord Shall Live: I Am That Great and Fiery Force CD/LP (K/Outpunk)
Songs about a lover who’ll only make love when you’re sleeping (is he a cryptonecro or just scared?); Venom samples (the original Confused Black Metal band described by bassist Kronos, remorseful and pissed, as Satanism, fucking stupidity, and smoke bombs going off everywhere, or something … ); and an extended metaphor where a horny gay man is an obscene tank driver: This is hardcore gone one step further. The sound is indecipherable at first (yes, that’s a violin) but the cluttered midrange, continually in violent motion, is really a closetful of horror movies, love letters, porno pictures, and shaky childish drawings, crammed beyond bursting and exploding into my face. As your head catches up (or slows down, Charles Bronson fans) to the pulse, you hear choruses, hoots, hollers, Lynyrd Skynyrd…. On the tenth listen to “All Day Interference” it’s all clear: There was never any other way to say it.
Charles Bronson/Quill: split 7″ EP (Nat, JAPAN)
While Charles Bronson are able to summon more self-righteous venom than your ex-wife digging her claws into your face, they’ve also got a wiseass, corrosive sense of humor (public-service announcements with orchestral accompaniment?) and even wiser aphorisms (Black Metal bands should print shirts with logos that people can actually fucking read; let’s start a revolution so I can break some shit.); in between making fun of themselves they vomit out a seamless, ridiculously dynamic wall of battery that make Void, Siege, and Venom [foam-at-the-mouthers who make people look like a bunch of candy-asses] look like a bunch of candy-asses; not a dead second. Too bad they split up. On the flip, Quill spew motorboat froth and an awesome Intense Degree cover. Yes, hardcore continues to go off years after you stopped listening to Minor Threat; yes, they actually mean it; now go ladle some more bored indie irony onto a fresh slice of electronica.
Los Crudos: Canciones Para Liberar Nuestras Fronteras LP (self-released)
Virtually all in Spanish, completely all at the top of their lungs, a big handful of thumbtacks. While I could do with more overt screeches or roars, or even more passages of rhythm and texture not overlaid by jitters and shouting, there’s something bold and warm about this, like a trumpet. One of the few things to come out of Chicago (cf. Naked Raygun’s singsong Home of the Brave) that makes me feel patriotic.
Jean Dubuffet: Les Expériences Musicales du Jean Dubuffet CD (Mandala, dist. by Harmona Mundi)
Jean Dubuffet was the founder of an aesthetic movement called “Art Brut” which took the works of children and the insane seriously as art. While interest in the Primitive is very easily reducible to a “white quest for authenticity,” (raw, unrestrained, stupid people are closer to the vital pulse of the universe, in touch with the unconscious, and can reinvigorate our flagging Lounge Culture) the music on this CD is also reducible, in a move approximately as swift, to “just a bunch of ones and zeros.” A number of Dubuffet’s lunatics were, in fact, brilliant; among the works collected in his museum in Lausanne are monuments and miniatures, products of enormous effort and craftsmanship, and, yes, some pieces of searing intensity as well as crystalline beauty. Just as importantly, they were human, and caring about them lets us better understand the human thing. As far as the lunatics’ art goes, it is the systematized quality of many of their works that remains with a visitor. What makes certain of the giant, decorated paintings so disturbing is the desire to extend, to balance and to justify the visual forms, the inability to leave something alone. In some way they are thus more like legal systems or religions than paintings; fear of, or contempt for, these is really a terror of the mind itself.
When I first heard this disc’s lead-off track I was astonished by the sheer nerve; Dubuffet had multi-tracked his own voice chanting, for 23 minutes, about a beard of flowers. The French language’s rich liquids and back vowels were never more fully realized than in his triumphal drone: “Le FLEUR du BARBE!!” Upon reflection, perhaps this isn’t as well-crafted as John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass. Every minute does not count, and the details are not crucial. Reading Dubuffet’s own comments, I understood that this was the point, and that it helped make it better, not worse, art. The songs on this disc, an alternate version of which had already appeared as a bootleg LP, are rumored to come from a six-LP box that was originally released in an edition of fifty. This is worth noting because of the negative reaction that Dubuffet seemed to anticipate in the notes. While such facts and such a history would normally make this merely a consolation prize in lieu of the original for avant-garde collectors, it is not they who need to hear it. It’s more normal people to whom this might give pause, who could find something here for themselves, and revel in the power of their own voice and noise.
Missy Misdemeanor Elliott: Supa Dupa Fly CD (Elektra)
Almost alone among contemporary R&B artists, Missy Elliott does not take off her shirt. Or even wear shorts. What she does is wink, smile, sway slightly, polish her green leather overalls, and crack wise (“I’m suuuuuuuuch a good rapperrrr”). And she is. While only the designated A-bomb single and a few other tracks really lay down that dense web of lurching beats, surprising hooks, and loopy-ass jokes, when Missy fires on all cylinders they are cylinders from a spaceship equipped with a truly amazing selection of tropical drinks.
Gerty Farish/Pissed Officers: Help Gerty Farish and the Pissed Officers Save the Ants split 10″ (not on a record label)
The time: “the eighties.” The place: a jerry-built, highly flammable fake Gothic campus in the Hollywood English countryside, set for the filming of the biggest Thomas Dolby video EVER. In the background, some mawkish bleeps and bloops set the mood; everything is calm, if contrived, when suddenly—DISASTER: Thomas’s hair has caught fire in the Bunsen burner! The flames devour yards of linen and poplin suits, swiftly spreading to the flimsy one-sided facades of the set, which begin to crumble hazardously. People hindered by long flapping lab coats run hither and thither; stumble and crawl like ants. A tidal wave of blood, or Kool-Aid that looks and tastes like blood (new Blood-flavor Kool-Aid) rushes in, dousing the flames. As the actors splash and bob confusedly in the rising tide of sweet red beverage, tiny Sanrio characters appear paddling inflatable life rafts, still shaking off telltale staircase confetti of digitization. They save everybody. Except Thomas Dolby, that dork.
Optical: To Shape the Future EP (Metalheadz)
A back-and-forth slam, no hi-hat on earth ever sounded this gritty (except maybe on that Registrators single), but there’s nothing macho or aggressive in its propulsive energy. The fantastic forward pressure of “Raging Calm” feels somehow geological: It could be six minutes or a million years. Either way, the depth and development of a sonic idea is exquisite.
Lysander Pearson: Displacement EP (Surface)
Theres a lot to be said for music that doesn’t do the things you like: If the only kind of country music you can appreciate is as raw and self-deprecating as those mopey-ass rock records at the bottom of the pile, maybe you’re listening to the same thing in drag. Scarier to try liking a form of music for what it already is: Could I handle the mix of heart and treacle in a well-lubed ’97 R&B song? I’m not saying you should, maybe you should run the other way—but touching stuff you think you don’t like can be like feeling a strange animal, hoping it won’t bite. Maybe it will nuzzle and lick you; maybe carry you off on huge rubbery wings and tickle you with long rubbery fingers. Oh, I’m thinking of nightgaunts. Anyhow, R&B usually sucks. But Techno and Jungle don’t, and the parts that stay with me are always somehow hardcore; music that unhinges its jaw and opens wider and wider over the course of the song, or the beat, or whatever it is that happens until the shit drops off and changes completely. Lysander Pearson doesn’t really do that here: While the beat on “exile” is strictly locked-groove (and sorta rubbery), “displacement’s” hiccups and growls transform in that bouncy, driving way that makes windshield wipers in the rain a perennial classic. “belaté” isn’t so much a dub of the previous song as the previous song itself with one of the knobs turned down, “displacement” bouncing off a distant wall. Tiny noises sneak into the corner of the frame and peek out then scamper away.
Registrators: “TV Hell” + “Vacation” one-sided 7″ (Rip-Off)
Words spewed like bits of chewed food, hi-hat sounds like stereo amp crackle, these songs perform the subtle twist of cramming a dense five-minute Tex Avery cartoon down to ninety seconds. Um, probably the best live band on the planet too.
Shizuo: Vs. Shizor CD (Grand Royal)
Is sarcasm an accepted compositional technique? It is now, if the composers don’t want their fucking asses kicked with what used to be called Drum ’n’ Bass until Shizuo shat all over it. This record forgives you your trespasses….
This Heat: Made Available—John Peel Sessions CD (These)
Post-rock. Most rock! Ghost rock. Pre-rock? Yup! This is dark, urgent music from another world that turns out to be ours. Unlike the welters of This Heat-inspired White Dub (sans Breadlocks) available, some kind of huge and rigorous spiritual force undergirds this music from 1977, probably This Heat’s best and therefore as good a place as any to start if you wish to listen to a record. “The Fall of Saigon,” a song about armchairs, living rooms, and a very hip ambassador’s wife is what real Horror Rock would sound like: strings of ectoplasm, old newspapers, and a dream of revenge over a clanking beat. “You’re only as good/as the words you understand/AND YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND A THING.” I feel like I’m playing drums when I listen to this, occasionally falling out of my seat.
Wu-Tang Clan: Wu-Tang Forever CD (does AOL have a record label?)
The most anticipated record of the summer might be remembered mostly for the record number of logos on the back (twelve, including Quicktime), because even the video game that came on the computer-ready CD sucked: It was like Quake, except instead of blowing people up you got to see more ads. It’s not that the Wu-Tang Puppy Mill can’t grind out music more striking than their t-shirts; RZA, Ol Dirty, and Gravediggaz prove it. But it’s ridiculous the way critics, trying to still like hip-hop (and unable to listen to Mountain Boys or Witchboard 45s, I guess), have gone in for their identity shtick: Sasha Frere-Jones, quick to see through hate-fuck rockers Pussy Galore as a classic white quest for authenticity, flops over on his back for these guys: “Why buy an album that’s obviously too long, too expensive, and half of which could be lost forever with no harm done? Because it’s the Wu…. ”
Huh. As Kool Keith said, “Keep it real, represent WHAT? My nuts.” Now that the Clan is giving more exciting interviews than shows, tossing promotional squeeze bottles out in front of a Staten Island version of La Bohème, and totally unsubstantiated rumors of a failed promo track are spreading (“Wu-Tang Clan drinks nuttin’ but Mountain Dew,” canned when the agency saw what happened to Ice Cube’s Tab cameo: “Tab—wastin’ all the sucka soda pops/load up the clip and watch the wack drinks drop!”), the backlash is probably next—right after the Nike uprising.