Not an experimental band and not a noise band, but loosely associated with the psychedelic punk sounds of early 80’s England. Kindred spirits of XTC and the Television Personalities, the band lead by Robyn Hitchcock put out some of my favorite pop songs.
Because of my age, I never saw the Soft Boys live and because of sheer laziness, I didn’t see Hitchcock until he toured with The Flaming Lips and Sebadoh on the Music Against Brain Degeneration tour. Hitchcock was charming a funny in the most British of ways and honestly, I found his set to be the best and most engaging on that tour. Sebadoh was a huge disappointment and the Lips, who I’d seen as a full rock band were awkwardly playing along to pre-recorded drum tracks.
This particular song has been stuck in my head lately, because much like so many other songs that were important to me in my formative years is being used in a TV commercial.
Slight change to the “buy” feature. Instead of linking to Amazon, I’ll be linking to record stores such as Reckless Records in Chicago and Amoeba in California.
On the surface, Skin Graft Records and Comics were purveyors of abrasive, angular noise rock, but digging a little deeper, you found a label that was essentially putting forth a style of progressive rock music that rather than rooted in music school and theory, was rooted in punk rock and it’s agitative spirit. Called a “Now Wave” label, Skin Graft was actually a comic book publisher who put out records rather than a record label that also dabbled in comic books. While the record side of things really took off, the comics that came with various Skin Graft compilations were pretty great.
This compilation is a fantastic time capsule that highlights a scene at it’s best. Featured here are some of my favorite noise bands that fell under the Now Wave label. The bigger names are U.S. Maple, The Flying Luttenbachers, Melt Banana, Flossie and the Unicorns and Quintron (among many others). While these bands are great, the highlight for me (as with all compilation records) are the bands I didn’t know and was introduced to here, specifically UFO or Die (who I’ll feature in a later post, not doubt), Cheer Accident (who are legends in their own right, but flew under my radar for years), Mount Shasta, Yona-Kit and the absolutely genius stand out track (for me at least) Plague of Frogs by Lake of Dracula (featuring Weasel Walter of The Flying Luttenbachers).
Rhys Chatham is a minimalist guitarist and leader of the Chatham Guitar Trio. Prior to his career as an evil guitar genius, he was a a piano tuner for minimalist composer La Monte Young, who would inevitably become a big influence on Chatham.
I got into Rhys Chatham fairly late in the game. I was working at WLUW and one of his early 2000’s albums came in and I started spinning it heavily during my radio show. That record, if I’m remembering correctly, was Echo Solo, which was a blurry collection of post-rock esque guitar compositions. Going backwards, I eventually found my way to the Guitar Trio stuff, which is my favorite. This track is a great example of being able to write an eight minute song, using one note and still have it be engaging and entertaining. The bare bones of this is pretty awesome and what really makes the song is the alternating rhythms between the two guitars and the propulsion of the Neu-esque drumming. No doubt this had an effect on me as a guitarist.
If you’re looking for a starting point, the Guitar Trio stuff is a great place to start. You can also check out the album Die Donnergotter.
Roscoe Mitchell is a native Chicagoan and jazz musician who was a member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (I’ll get to them in a later post). A buddy of mine turned me on to this and I was drawn in pretty quickly.
Back when I was in college, when stuff like this would come on WNUR or WZRD, we would all joke that while this stuff is cool to play, it’s hard to listen to. I no longer agree with my 19 year old self and as a 40 something weirdo, I’ve grown to appreciate the more abstract. While it doesn’t sound particularly musical on the surface, there’s a lot going on here, so get comfortable and give it a spin.
I guess if you’re going to pick someone to write about on the eclipse day, Klaus Nomi would be the guy. Nomi was an anomaly in the NYC music scene in the 70’s and 80’s. A gay German immigrant who was a classically trained opera singer who looked like he came from another planet. There’s a fantastic documentary out there called The Nomi Song, which does a great job of telling his story, so I won’t go into it. Go find it, buy it, and bask in the beauty of a alien who graced us with his presence.
Nomi’s music was equal parts operatic, quirky synth driven post punk and too weird to be called new wave. For me, it was really inspiring and beyond the make up, Rocky Horror space suit wings and theatrical performances, the music itself really reflected a lot of the noises that constantly run through my head. Get passed the image and the kitsch and give Klaus Nomi a serious listen. Also, check out Urgh! A Music War, because that’s pretty great. The whole thing is on You Tube as a play list.
Krystof Eugeniusz Penderecki is a Polish composer who scored this piece, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima in 1960. In this piece, Penderecki experiments with extended instrumental techniques, tone clusters and other non-conventional uses of instruments which would inevitably influence not only other 20th Century composers, but no doubt experimental rock musicians such as Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch and most obviously, Glenn Branca.
Penderecki penned several other pieces that I think are pretty brilliant, but this is his most famous and probably my favorite. This version is performed by the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Check it out and listen to it loud. Close your eyes and freak out your neighbors.
Back in the magical summer of 1995, my trusted cohort and fellow noise enthusiast/best friend and I were at the neighborhood record store, perusing the new releases wall. As we snobbishly scoffed at albums by post grunge grunt rockers and hair metal leftovers, something jumped out at us. A plain white album cover with black text that said “Japanese/American Noise Treaty.” We both grabbed a copy and looked a the track list. It was littered with names we’d never heard of and we raised our eyebrows; “Cock ESP?” “Third Organ?” Who the fuck were these weirdos? Two familiar names jumped out at us though; the first was Masonna, who was featured on MTV’s 120 Minutes when Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore hosted (also featured was Bikini Kill in a short film about the Riot Grrl movement). The other was Merzbow, who we previously heard on Northwestern University’s radio station, WNUR 89.3.
I opted to purchase this gem where as my friend purchased something else (most likely something Flaming Lips or Mercury Rev related). When we got back to my house, we put in disc one. We were not prepared for what would come next — the most abrasive, shrill, static intensity forced it’s way out of my bookshelf speakers. I quickly hit stop on the CD player — not because it was bad, or I was startled, but instead to give me time to unwrap an XLII and get it into the tape deck to copy these beasts to cassette. This was absolutely quintessential car noise.
Around this time, my friend and I would commonly drive around the northwest side of Chicago listening to bizzaro music at top volume. It made for some hilarious, uncomfortable moments at red lights where senior citizens, squares and (on at least a couple occassions) Chicago cops would uncomfortably stair at us as they rolled up their windows. Most officers in the “retirement district” of Chicago’s CPD didn’t want to bother getting out of their cruisers to hassle a couple of long hairs in a sticker covered car, let alone worry about what kind of conversation they would have with said mutants. Japanese/American Noise Treaty was a next level freak out.
When playing this for select groups of friends who were more hung up on the pop punk and ska of the day (which I have no shame in admitting I also enjoyed), they generally didn’t know what to make of this release. What we made of it was transforming one of our music projects, originally designed to piss off buzzards at the local metal club into a complete and total noise driven war machine called My Tree My Pet. One day I’ll upload some of those tracks that drew influence directly from this compilation.
Overall, as a much older, calmer listener, I think I actually enjoy these tracks a lot more than I did when I was drawing influence for caffeine fueled noise catharsis. This stuff is by no means everyone’s cup of tea, but give it a chance. Listen with your eyes closed and look for patterns and layers. They’re there, trust me. A lot of this stuff is true genius and absolute art.
This is the post excerpt.
As an engineer, I spend a lot of time with headphones on while at work. At home, there’s always something playing — LP’s, 7″s, CDs, MP3’s, Spotify — it’s never quiet. Throughout the day, it isn’t uncommon for me to send my wife, or random friends text messages that say “holy shit, I forgot how good _______ is,” or “why am I just finding out about this band now?” and of course “did you hear the new _________ album??”
My wife pointed out that my love of all music, but especially bizarro experimental music and noise rock mixed with my love of the written word would make for a good blog. What will you find here? I don’t know. We’ll see. The plan for now is try to post one record a day and write something to accompany a link to a Bandcamp page, Spotify link or Youtube video. I might just put up a link to something that catches my ear with no explanation, leaving it up to you, the reader to come to your own conclusions. So there.