X__X – “X Sticky Fingers X” (2014)

The Cleveland art-punk/no wave band X__X only existed for a handful of months in 1978.  The brainchild of John Morton, they filled the gap between the demise of Electric Eels and Morton’s move from Cleveland to New York City.  During that brief period they recorded a couple of unusual singles before going dormant for the next three decades, re-emerging in 2014 with a compilation called X Sticky Fingers X.

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I’d never heard of X__X until recently when I ran across a reference to the group in Henry Rollins’ new book Hey Fanatic!!! Vol. 1.  They seemed interesting enough so I tracked down a copy of the comp on Discogs.  Morton described X__X as anti-music and they were known for “playing” things like lawnmowers and power drills (and you can hear a drill on X Sticky Fingers X), with their few live shows often devolving into physical violence.

To contemporary ears the songs are hardly anti-music or even no wave.  Sure, they have some grating qualities, especially the oft-used repetitive guitar notes that quickly become like fingernails on a chalkboard (and that pesky power drill…), but for the most part the songs have structure, even if at times they are eccentric.  Most of the tracks were culled from live recordings, and while that’s evident the sound quality is decent overall, especially given the era.  It’s hard to pick a “favorite” track, but if I had to I’d go with “The Social Whirlpool”.  Your mileage may vary.

The cover is a bit, well, sexual, so I opted to post the back cover with the post.  If you want to see the front in all of its glory, you can see it on Discogs HERE.

OWT – “Good As Gold” (1989)

ostgoodasgoldI’m not sure what to make of Good As Gold.  OWT was the partnership of harpist (yes, I said harpist) Zeena Parkins and percussionist David Linton.  The pair also brought some keyboards, digital, and even tape looping skills to the project, which in many ways feels like some kind of bizarre free-jazz-meets-no-wave thing.  Experimental?  Yeah.  Thought provoking?  Definitely.  Enjoyable?  Well… it’s challenging.  The compositions have quasi-structures, but there’s so much happening that the listener never gets comfortable, which may well be the point.  “Dream Mint” is my favorite piece, something a bit more restrained with some intriguing electronic elements thrown in for good measure.

Jungle Nausea – “Jungle Nausea” (1982)

junglenauseaJungle Nausea weren’t around for long, but they did give us this impossibly good six-shooter of a 12″.  There are a few decent band histories online HERE and HERE if you’re interested, so I’m going to stick to the music this time around.

Two songs into Jungle Nausea, Holly and I were already tracking in the same direction, her commenting that it reminded her of the Lydia Lunch record we listened to recently and me thinking about it in terms of no wave.  And given Lunch’s role in that here-today-gone-tomorrow genre, we were both pretty much thinking the same thing.

One of the posts I found about the band online used the word “robotic”, and that’s a perfect description of Tammy Cates’ vocals.  The jarring aspect of the whole thing is that while the vocals are stilted and deliberate, the music is all over the place.  Most of the time it’s like a series of sonic exclamation points, musical laser beams being shot of the speakers.  But there’s variety here too. The horns in “What You Know” give the whole thing a futuristic free jazz feel, while the metallic clanging percussion of “Turn Off” feels like it comes straight out of your kitchen and played using spoons as drumsticks and pots and pans the surfaces.

In 2016 Jungle Nausea got the compilation treatment, a twelve-song collection that includes all six tracks from their 1982 release and a half dozen more that hadn’t been published before.  Yes, the hand-painted covers of the original are cool, but for the money you might want to stick with the more recent record – you can give it a listen as well as purchase it on Bandcamp HERE.

Lydia Lunch / 13.13 – “13.13” (1982)

The New York City of the 1970s is portrayed as some type societal breakdown, a massive and densely populated urban area spiraling around the drain of poverty, crime, and anomie.  Drugs, prostitution, garbage all over the place and buildings on fire due to arson, all that was left was to wonder about was what the bottom would look like when the city finally hit it, or if the sheer weight of NYC break right through the bottom and keep going.  I mean, the police force, who were in a labor dispute with the city government, put out a pamphlet called Welcome To Fear City that they’d hand out to tourists, a booklet that literally recommended people don’t walk around on the sidewalks after 6PM and to not use any public transportation.

Was it truly that dystopian?  I don’t know – I didn’t live there.  But I did drive through Queens a couple of times with my parents when in town to visit family, and even to my young eyes looking out the car window it seemed impossible to believe that people actually lived in some of these areas, with their boarded up buildings and endless piles of garbage and stripped cars.  It sure seemed pretty bad.

Of course, like modern-day Detroit, these situations also attract a lot of young people.  The rents were impossibly cheap, and squatting was a viable option.  You didn’t need to make a lot of money to get by, and if your expectations were low (like no hot water… the inevitable break-in…) you could live a type of life.  You could also pursue whatever artistic endeavors you wanted.  And that’s the NYC that Lydia Lunch moved to in the mid 1970s as a 16 year old.  By 1976 she’d founded the no wave band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks with James Chance, pioneering the short-lived no wave movement that seeped out of the “no future” ethos of the city and contributing four songs to the genre-defining No New York compilation.  By 1980 she had her first solo album, the well-regarded Queen of Siam, and that was followed in 1982 by 13.13.

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Even sitting here in my clean and warm home, with a huge TV playing silently across the room and a kitchen full of food, I can still get a sense of that version of 1970s NYC when listening to Lunch on 13.13.  There’s an almost plodding resignation to the music and vocals.  Yes, the frustration is there to be heard, but in the way people express it when they know it isn’t going to get any better.  Holly hears similarities between Lunch and Mudhoney‘s Mark Arm, and that’s a very reasonable comparison both sonically and lyrically, though Lunch lacks the disdainful sneer you can feel in Arm’s voice on recent Mudhoney records.  Trouser Press described the album as “simultaneously fascinating and annoying”, but lest anyone think that the annoying aspects of 13.13 are due to a lack of talent, in fact it feels quite intentional.  If “Suicide Queen” doesn’t make you want to start searching your junk drawer for a razor blade it’s only because you’re not absorbing the song, the drone-like quality of Lydia’s voice feeling like a slow cut on your own skin.  It’s probably not something I’m going to listen to on a regular basis, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.  The length of the last three songs, a combined 18 1/2 minutes, do perhaps strain the brain with their relentlessness, but I suspect that’s the point.

James Chance & Pill Factory – “Theme From Grutzi Elvis” (1979)

I’m currently reading The Mudd Club, Richard Boch’s diary-like book detailing the 18 or so months he spent working the door at the fabled New York City club and venue in 1979/80.    One of the things I read about last week was unreleased film Grutzi Elvis and its relationship with the club.  No Wave pioneer James Chance was involved in the soundtrack and that intrigued me enough to look up the album on Discogs.  Which is why when I was digging at Silver Platters literally the next day I knew exactly what this was as soon as I ran across it.  Coincidence?  Sure.  But it was also too good of a thing to pass up.

Theme From Grutzi Elvis deserves a spot in the tiny No Wave cannon.  The songs have enough structure so as to not be anti-songs, and Chance’s signature saxophone screech is seemingly everywhere.  Everyone gives just enough of a fuck that it doesn’t turn into a sloppy mess, but clearly they’re not trying to make anything commercially viable.  It’s an interesting time capsule, a dystopian postcard from a nihilistic time in the heart of a great city that was standing on the precipice of the abyss.  No Wave ceased to exist the moment it started to get noticed, simply due to the fact that people were in fact noticing and starting to pay attention.  It was never meant for that, more of a brief statement than a long speech.