On Zeni Geva (here):
Zeni Geva indulged in dissonant and gloomy orgies, in the tradition of early Swans and Big Black (but with no bass), on albums such as Maximum Money Monster (1990), Desire For Agony (1993), and especially Total Castration (1992). Null’s solo work, notably Absolute Heaven (1994) and Ultimate Material II (1995), continued to straddle the border between extreme noise and very extreme noise.
Merzbow, the brainchild of Masami Akita, one of the most prolific musicians of all times (not a compliment), was a theoretician of surrealism in music but practiced a form of savage violence that was more akin to a suicide bombing on non-musical works such as Rainbow Electronics (1990), Music For Bondage Performance (1991), Venereology (1994) and Tauromachine (1998).
…Merzbox (1997) is a box of 50 CDs that “summarizes” his career, when he has just passed the record of the 200th album. It includes 30 reprints of CDs, LPs and cassettes, as well as 20 unreleased albums.
…It is difficult to tell Whether Dharma (2001) is a masterpiece or another Merzbow self-parody … but maybe that’s precisely what Merzbow is all about. One of their most savage noise recordings, it includes the massive (32 minutes), gargantuan, arcane musique concrete of “Frozen Guitars and Sunloop / 7E 802,” that after eight minutes turned into a maelstrom exuding a sense of desperation and after sixteen enters an endless free fall, besides the crescendo of “I’m Coming to the Garden No Sound No Memory,” that achieves a screeching intensity, the nuclear carpet bombing of “Akashiman,” and the eight-minute chamber composition “Space Plan For Marimo Kitty” for random piano notes and alien electronic interference.
By the same token, on Frog (2001), a sequence of variations on frogs, Masami Akita seems to make fun of the fans who take him seriously.
On Boredoms (Google translated):
[In Soul Discharge (1989)] the devastating “Pow Wow Now” has a thousand and one second thoughts, ramblings, pauses, incidental. Each instrument and each item is used at the limit of its sound possibilities. Each song is an accumulation of free excesses.
What has changed above all compared to the past are the vocal parts: each member emits shrill noises, trying to steal time from others. Theirs is a demented vocalism made up of gargles, trills, solfeggios, raspberries, an art that is all transgressive but which, in the absence of a rhythm or riff or melody, becomes the engine of the pieces. “Z & U & T & A” makes one think of a tribe of drunken Indians who dances to the point of exhaustion, and “Pussy Badsmell” [makes one think of] an orgy of some infernal circle in the most total and confused instrumental chaos. If the Boredoms are not the first to experiment with the voice, they are among the first to attempt an art of dissonant vocal harmonies.
…Chocolate Synthesizer… (1994) is another monument of unbridled Dadaism, a carnival of disguises more than a music record… the works of the Residents, by comparison, are masterpieces of rationality.
…Over the entire history of rock, few have dared to distort the concept of harmony as the Boredoms, few have denied the concepts of rhythm and melody in an equally radical manner, few have managed to compose such songs without a plot. Their most important contribution will probably remain in the field of singing, where they extended the insights of David Thomas and Captain Beefheart, devising counterpoints between voices that are no longer voices but simple aberrations of voices.
On The Dead C (partly Google translated):
The most radical implementation of the “industrial” aesthetic was carried out in New Zealand by Dead C… The primitive, guitar-based cacophony of DR503 (1987), still related to the lo-fi pop school of the era, evolved into Trapdoor Fucking Exit (1990), which harmonized raga-rock, acid-rock, the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” and the Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star,” and into the improvised chamber psychedelic jams of Harsh 70s Reality (1992), whose rhythm-less, droning, electronic soundscapes evoked both Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music and Gordon Mumma’s sonic scupltures… If Brian Eno invented music that should not be listened to, Dead C invented music that is impossible to listen to.
…The double Harsh ’70s Reality (1992) overcomes every harmonic bulwark, especially in the twenty-two minutes of “Driver UFO.” This exhausting psychedelic chamber jam virtually expands the Grateful Dead leaks, leaving only feedback, glissando and reverberations in the foreground, eliminating the rhythm altogether, and spreading veils of ultra-loud electronics on the rambling guitars’ rambling. The sidereal spat of guitars is almost the antithesis of the history of rock music. The twelve minutes of “Love” are no less, with that long rattle of guitar, the countless cues, the random beat of the drums, and not even the slightest sense of the song. A long shaggy deafening drone drags that other torture of “Sea Is A Violet,” with amateur percussion unleashed without restraint. The guitars have fun in “Suffer Bomb Damage” to simulate a bombardment… The disc represents the pinnacle of Russell and Morley’s anti-harmonic research. His soundscape is delimited by the second album of the Velvet Underground, the first vertiginous suites by Pink Floyd, by the most rambling live delusions of the Grateful Dead and by Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. Only the Twin Infinitives of Royal Trux may compete with him. If hell exists, Beatles fans will spend eternity listening to this record.
On Michael Nyman (Google translated):
The long “M-Work” (1982) summarizes the principles of his art: a revision in a comic sense of minimalism, a predominantly rhythmic use of the orchestra, a martial scan of the chords of melodies, the use of urgent crescendo of string sections, a marked preference for the dramatic time of the march, a continuous allusion to rondo, minuets, psalms and requiems, a convulsive thematic development, a chaotic superimposition of different harmonic blocks, the lack of an end in which culminate the plot of the piece. In the sign of the most post-modern metalinguistic, the Wagner of minimalism erects towers of musical Babel taking inspiration from the soundtracks of the cinema and from the country bands.
In her solo career… the Sugarcubes’ singer Bjork Gudmundsdottir adopted the worst vice of their monotonous records, the propensity for trivial dance-pop, but took it to new heights. There is no question that she boasted uncommon vocal skills, although there is also no question that she is lacking in compositional skills, a fact that constantly forced her to team up with famous producers.
We must admit she has been very good at absorbing and recycling styles and techniques of modern music in order to impose her personality. If we wanted to analyze Bjork’s career, Madonna could indeed be taken as a model. In fact, Bjork’s strategy (rather than her sound) is the same as Madonna’s. If Madonna is the symbol of alternative, provocation, affront, in a word the punk aesthetics, then Bjork is the symbol of mainstream, alignment, compliance, in a word the return to middle-class values after the punk movement. Bjork does not upset the public, she entertains it. If Madonna’s message was coarsely obvious, then Bjork’s is subliminal, but nonetheless in step with the mood of her days. Bjork can rely on a stunning voice and some creative arrangers. In the productions of both artists, music has a subordinate role.
…Just like the Beatles before her, Bjork has made trivial pop music enhanced with studio wizardry. It’s the studio wizardry, not the music, that people buy. And the tv-friendly image, of course. Anybody who thinks Bjork is a genius should try to listen at least to Solex. Let your ears, not publicity, judge.
…If an unknown musician makes a wildly experimental album, few will notice. But if a pop star makes a mildly experimental album, critics will go beserk writing how daring and adventurous she is. Medulla is ostensibly a vocal album with electronic and digital production work, but no traditional instruments at all; and ostensibly inspired by the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York (where she now lives). The album is an exhibition of her knowledge of the state of the art in recording technology and her good taste in picking collaborators (Mike Patton, Robert Wyatt, Matmos, Rahzel of the Roots). That’s the whole “experimental” concept…
…Just do not exaggerate her merits. During the 1990s, countless black soul stars have made albums that relied entirely on electronic production instead of traditional instruments. In a veiled case of “blackxploitation,” Bjork has adopted that idea and bent it to the intellectual aesthetic ideals of the European culture. Like all pop stars, she pretends to straddle the line between experimentation and commercial sell-out, when in fact she is simply advertising her “product” over and over again, the ultimate commercial trick. Just like Madonna at her (commercial) best. It is an insult to all the experimental musicians in the world to claim that there is even a bit of experimentation in this album.
…Vulnicura, co-produced with Arca (Alejandro Ghersi), was yet another break-up album… Bjork’s string orchestration is heavier and more sumptuous than ever, but even more important is Arca’s translucent, disorienting, multi-layered percussion work. There is hardly a song on which Arca doesn’t invent something completely new and unexpected (the exact opposite of Bjork’s singing)… The weakest element is, yet again, Bjork’s lyrics. The strongest element is, of course, Arca’s visceral beats, worthy of a jazz improviser. In fact, this could be Arca’s best album if it were credited to him. If credited to her, her best album in a decade. She has certainly improved as an arranger, although it would be easy to find dozens of humble arrangers who can do a better job.
The sprawling (72-minute long) Utopia was another collaboration with Arca, but his incendiary beats are very much tamed. Generally speaking, gone are the claustrophobia and the brutality. This is a much calmer and rational affair. Bjork has suddenly discovered the flute, an instrument that gets employed everywhere. Given the results, the move feels more childish than artistic… Had she trimmed the songs and removed several duds, this would have been another brilliant collaboration with Arca. Her flute mania does not help establish her as a serious composer.
On Mariah Carey:
Mariah Carey… is an astonishing vocalist, equipped with a five-octave range and a register that competes with Whitney Houston’s. Her melisma singing on the high notes became soon legendary. Unfortunately, she has wasted her career singing lame soul-pop ballads. Thanks to her artistic prostitution, Mariah Carey was the best-selling female performer of the 1990s.
…Carey is rarely credited for her own success, but she actually composed 13 of her 14 chart-topping hits.
Carey topped the charts in each year of the 1990s. At 29, Mariah Carey had already sold over 100 million albums. Neither Presley nor the Beatles could claim anything close to her records.
Slint… represented a major shift in musical purpose: they were more intimidating than exciting. The mostly-instrumental music of Tweez (1989) kept the tension and the neurosis of hardcore but lost the passion and the narrative logic. It was “pointless” music. It was a stylistic black hole which sucked the history of rock music, in which the history of rock music virtually ended. It wasn’t exactly acid-rock, although it indulged in similar free-form approach, it wasn’t progressive-rock although it exhibited the same brainy stance, it wasn’t heavy-metal, although it relied on forceful guitar work, it wasn’t free-jazz or avantgarde classical music, although it shared with them a penchant for innovative structures. Spiderland (1991) was even more abstract. Its harmonic zigzags through irregular tempos, fractured melodies and discordant counterpoint were as disorienting as notes scribbled in an unknown language. Vapid moribund passages were inundated by sudden tidal waves of sound, or, better, given the glacial tone of the band’s jamming, arctic quiet was shaken by icebergs cracking in the ocean. The whole album flew in a dis-organic manner, but still retained an odd sense of unity. It sounded like the stream of consciousness of a mathematician’s brain as it was solving a difficult theorem.
Tortoise basically reinvented progressive-rock for the new millenium when they anchored their musical drifting to dub and jazz pillars… They were not only inspired by the historical rhythm sections of funk and dub, but they set out to obscure that legacy with a more far-reaching approach… Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996) streamlined the mind-boggling polyphony of their jams and achieved a sort of post-classical harmony, a new kind of balance and interaction between melodies and rhythms. “Djed,” in particular, could swing between sources as distant as Neu and Steve Reich while retaining a fundamental unity, flow and sense of purpose. The jazz component and academic overtones began to prevail …TNT (1998) had in mind the Modern Jazz Quartet and Miles Davis’ historical quintet, not King Crimson or Slint, but the result was nonetheless a magisterial application of Djed’s aesthetics.
On Vampire Rodents (partly Google translated):
The Vampire Rodents… were possibly the greatest composers of collage-music of the decade. War Music (1990) merely set the existential tone of their opus by juxtaposing recitals of horror stories against industrial music performed by Neanderthal men on stone instruments. Premonition (1992)… transposed that program to another dimension, making music out of a frantic collage of sources. On one hand, the combo created a music in which sound effects, not instruments, became the element of composition. On the other hand, they retained the feeling of jazz and avantgarde chamber music. Their savage art of montage reached a demented peak with Lullaby Land (1993). Rhythm permeated this work at least on two levels: a disco/funk/house beat that propelled the track; and the pace at which snippets were glued together to form “songs.” At both levels the verve was palpable. The songs were gags, and each gag was an assembly of cells. It was entertaining, and it was terrifying. The whole recalled the grotesque and unpredictable merry-go-rounds of Frank Zappa’s early works and the Residents’ early suites… Clockseed (1995) added more instruments of the orchestra and more drum-machines, and offered a more linear, rational and focused take on the same idea. It was another symphony of chaos and multitude, that, indirectly, harked back to composers of urban cacophony such as Charles Ives and Edgar Varese (and composers of cartoon soundtracks such as Carl Stalling). It was still a cannibal and schizophrenic art, that continuously devoured itself and that continuously changed personality. Gravity’s Rim (1996), instead, returned to the format of the pop song, thus closing an ideal loop. Layers of samples merely provided the “arrangement” for the melodies carried by the vocals. Vampire Rodents’ art shared with Dadaism and Futurism the aesthetic principle that avantgarde and clownish novelty should be one and the same.
…When the gradation of violence increases to dangerous levels, as in “Dowager’s Egg” and “Mother Tongue,” the Vampire Rodents look like the Nine Inch Nails accompanied by a symphony orchestra that performs songs by Schoenberg and by a big band that performs Ornette Coleman themes.
On Mouse on Mars:
Mouse On Mars… applied the post-rock aesthetics to post-techno music.
…[On Iaora Tahiti] Mouse On Mars are responsible for an audacious synthesis of experiments on the song format spanning vertically through the entire rock history: the galactic, upbeat drum’n’bass and funk of “Kanu” shows vestiges of Gong; the off-key carillon of “Papa Antoine” comes from Todd Rundgren’s recordings; the almost industrial dissonances and the grotesque reggae tones of “Schunkel” are close to Pere Ubu’s Modern Dance; the futuristic mini-symphony of “Schlecktron” warps Klaus Schulze cosmic paintings. These are not music compositions, these are metaphors of music composition. The music is ‘literal’ only in the swamp tones of “Stereomission” and in the spellbinding drum’n’bass of “Bib,” that possesses by the way the timbric brilliancy of chamber music.
San Francisco-based Oxbow… concocted an insane free-form collage of atonal instruments (notably Niko Wenner’s guitar), vocal rants, noise, punk energy, heavy-metal loudness, truculent stories and sheer nonsense.
…On one hand are the songs that pack punkish energy, such as the witchy Pere Ubu-esque dance of “Daughter” and the Led Zeppelin-ian hard blues “Woe” (that sounds like a demonic version of “When The Levee Breaks” for drunk Apaches, then fed to a defective videotape player and smashed under a bulldozer). Higher up in the hierarchy of ambitions sits the eight-minute “Bomb,” in which guitar and violin mock a neoclassical duet to warm up the stage for the rambling voice swimming naked in an embarrassing void. Even more theatrical is the eight-minute “Angel,” in which a cool Lydia Lunch talks over a whining Robinson while a piano tries to create a morbid atmosphere until the instruments run away with their noisy and limping jam. More of these cryptic abstractions litter the album, from “Cat And Mouse,” a sloppy collage of samples at a flamenco-ish rhythm, to “Burn,” that stages a man shouting and his many echoes, and then a female choir erasing it all. Each vocal performance is sabotaged by a background of incoherent instruments that, even when it is not playing anything in particular, just doesn’t let go. The effect is exhilarating.
…What towers over anything else is the nine-minute “The Stabbing Hand,” an expressionist kammerspiel that pits a wailing male voice against a choir programmed to respond to its agony with an undulating wordless melody. They all shut up when a church organ glides on them, but the silence only lasts a few seconds. Soon uncertain drums, similar to a car’s ignition that can’t start the car, restart the show, with an earsplitting guitar distortion piercing the obsessed recitation of the protagonist. The organ drones return and the voice shuts up again; then the soliloquy resumes with the same spastic company of guitar and drums; then the drone comes back and this time the voice cries over it. This cryptic piece ends with some childish drumming, a monster guitar distortion, and still that desperate voice trying to tell us something that is lost in its incomprehensible world.
On Supreme Dicks (Google translated):
The Emotional Plague (1996) is the last real record. The Supreme Dicks have reached a very advanced stage in their study of sound dialectics. This disc stands on the border between environmental music, psychedelia and avant-garde, but it belongs to none of them and differs profoundly from all of them in spirit and goals. Each song is now a small concert of sounds that focuses on the timbre qualities and the mixture of those qualities. The group rarely tries to play notes in the traditional sense of the word. Almost always the instrumental score is more than anything else a canvas on which colors are sprayed, seemingly at random. The [expression], however, is not that provocative of Dadaism but that of an almost religious martyrdom.
The instrumental “Synaesthesia,” an essay for drones, reverberations and [something] that touches the [aleatoric music] of Cage and ends up in an anemic carillon, is the ideal overture for this work of total negation of musical emotion. Another instrumental, “Showered,” seems to be looking for a classical step, but the flute is oversized and the guitars sound like they are deformed by an overdose…
…There are almost never melodies, there are almost never rhythms. Only haggard sounds, lifted by a mysterious wind and left to fall back slowly into emptiness. “A Donkey’s Burial” (nine minutes) is a long nightmarish kammerspiel, counterpointed by an abstract chatter of guitars…
The entire record is immersed in this claustrophobic, and sometimes hallucinogenic, atmosphere, cradled by a hundred disconnected chords that almost never manage to become a sequence of music but remain a mere dust of sound scattered randomly over words. Just the non-existence of harmony creates the psychic tension, just the absence of a logic creates the logic of the piece.
If these pieces were performed by a chamber orchestra, there would be no doubt that they are avant-garde lied. The Supreme Dicks have made to rock music what Messiaen did to church music and what Van Gogh did to landscape painting.
In the age of hardcore punk-rock, the aesthetics of Phish, a quintet based in Vermont, bordered on the suicidal. Nonetheless, the band became one of the most significant phenomena of the decade. Phish focused on the live concert, a concept that had been anathema during the 1980s, and rediscovered the guitar solo, the ornate keyboard arrangements, prog-rock tempo shifts, group improvisation and the whole vocabulary of intellectual music… Guitarist Trey Anastasio inherited Frank Zappa’s clownish compositional style, which blended rock, jazz and classical music in pseudo-orchestral fashion, while his cohorts inherited Grateful Dead’s dizzy jamming style, and keyboardist Page McConnell added a strong and elegant jazz accent. Their art of stylistic montage peaked with A Picture Of Nectar (1992). Its kaleidoscopic suites balanced the melodic center of mass and the centrifugal forces of the instrumental parts, while surfing through an impressive catalog of styles, juxtaposing kitsch sources (exotica, lounge, easy-listening, doo-wop) and chamber duets or jazz solos.
…A most unique phenomenon within the history of rock occurred: without ever cutting even one single, Phish was able to make 2 national tours, packing theaters in thousands of places. At their concerts they distributed a self-produced cassette that saw the light of day only a year later on the album Junta…
The first album, Lawn Boy (1990), continued to feed the cult phenomenon that was already spreading. The album was not only one of the most varied and imaginative ever, it was also an essay of scientific editing, of painstaking assembly of themes and heterogeneous scores, and of ever changing music. Their rock style turned, rather suddenly, back to the psychedelic style of the 70s. All of the tracks were predominantly instrumental and they all continued to the end with the basic rock song form. The characteristics of continual mutation of melody, rhythm, instrumentation, and key were the true protagonists of the music; the glue that bound their songs together; and the composition became the art of knowing how to piece together the diverse ideas. One can hear within the same piece a calypso rhythm, jazz-rock phrasing, barbershop vocals, noises, slow dance, and fanfare style Rhythm and Blues perfectly integrated with each other, to the point of not knowing where one ends and another begins. The patchwork was better camouflaged in early Zappa but the roller coaster of arrangements was no less adventurous. Phish had the same encyclopedic culture as the Bonzo Band, but with more sophistication and in the manner of a devoted collector instead of in the manner of a high school comedy, with the spirit of the jazz-rock of Penguin Cafe Orchestra. In the end, Phish distinguished themselves as instrumental and compositional geniuses with few equals in both rock and jazz, above all because of the group’s capacity to amalgamate the styles. Anastasio was the principle composer and arranger and he needed to have that muffled sound which he so beautifully hand crafted. For example, “The Squirming Coil” diluted a delicate chamber style jazz in a lively crescendo, using the piano to beat out the rhythm with an elegant boogie, arriving unexpectedly at a Dire Straits type ballad, and shortly after, ending in a solemn refrain (doubled in falsetto). The parade of disguises continued this way until ending with “Bouncing Around the Room,” a very classical track, like a game of sophisticated vocal counterpoints and minimalist crescendo but with a fleeting finale al la Grateful Dead. “Split Open and Melt” began as a jazz-funk fanfare but ended with an a cappella renaissance lament. The quantity and quality of textures was impressive. It was not just a show of musical acrobatics; it also contained strong doses of comedy as demonstrated by the gag-songs al la Zappa such as “Bathtub Gin.” To further lighten the atmosphere, taking it almost to the level of a circus, were the short interludes scattered here and there: “My Sweet One, “which unfolds quite naturally as a Country-Western, or the avant-garde bluegrass of “The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony.” Anastasio’s objective was to resurrect the ways of the old “big bands”, or to select a style and “hear it played” in different variations: a dance style, an intellectual style, as well as a relaxing version and so on. He hoped to rediscover the flexibility inherent in the language of music; the commercialization pushed by capitalism was cut off in favor of a more rigid form of expression (and therefore also easier to sell). However, the linguistic code of Phish had an ulterior level of interpretation, in that it was not tied to a specific genre. The pretext of one of their tracks could come from a pop refrain or a bluegrass rhyme; but along the way that theme might change to another, blues, or funk, or reggae, or who knows, and the final destination was of no concern. The dynamic was just as unpredictable, with a succession of highs and lows, of fierce and slow rhythms, deafening and imperceptible. Phish was extremely skilled in progressively creating states of suspense, in the orchestration of alternation between tension and relaxation, in dispersing rhythms in a continuous syncopated flow, and in consolidating all their energy for savage explosions. Masters of the classical technique of “breaking out”, Phish set about to amalgamate the rational (Western) and the irrational (African) spirits of modern music. In this sense, the masterpiece of masterpieces was “Reba,” which began as a vaudeville style song sung softly to a tapping rhythm and a subtle piano, plunging into the context of animated cartoons and ragtime orchestras, and finishing in a clownish and totally Zappa style, with sequences of jazz-rock on guitar that were superbly arranged. Though from a strictly technical point of view Phish managed to combine the instrumental styles in “Run Like An Antelope,” which started as a crackling country-rock and changed to a pressing “jazz-blues fusion”, propelled by piano in an Old West saloon style in rapid crescendo, increasingly more swinging and electric, touching upon the magical atmosphere al la Peter Green, culminating in a wild jam led by the guitar, and ending in a bubbly blues-rock reminiscent of Little Feat and Band…
…With a single sound that was a collage of jazz, rock, classical, country, blues, world music, and armed with an enormous spirit, Phish was at the forefront of the reassessment of the anti-commercial values of the 60’s. Their psychedelic jazz made them the true heirs of Grateful Dead.
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