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5 April 2010

Glenn Branca - 'Lesson No. 1' (99)

I'd guess this is Branca's first record, cause he looks like such a strapping young lad on the back sleeve. This is 19 minutes of industrial music, masquerading as a serious chamber music ensemble masquerading as a rock band. The title track, which fills side 1, does little for me. If this is a lesson, what exactly am I learning? There's a manic energy to everything, or maybe I should say a pulsing nervousness; the two guitars chortle along and the tune occasionally explodes into ringing, frantic strumming. I know this is supposed to be serious music but it reminds me of the punkest parts of the Feelies' Crazy Rhythms. Some singing would really benefit this (O, sacrilege!); as an instrumental it feels like kindred spirits with those Birdsongs of the Mesozoic records I listened to awhile back. But side two, if a bit uncreatively named ('Dissonance') is a totally kickass dirge, based around Branca's attempt to murder his guitar. It's stapled to a monolithic 2/2 rhythm and punctuated by Harry Spitz's sledgehammer bursts! The effect is not unlike the VU's 'European Son' but also with a health dollop of Neubauten. When you turn it up loud, it just sounds evil and angry, and despite the relentless beat, somewhat unfocused. It's like Branca is moving through a catalogue of techniques on the electric guitar, and you can be sure the emphasis is on the strings, not the fretboard. I love music that can be slow and active at the same time; this manages to take an exploding ball of energy and hold it in stasis for 12 minutes. After this he started writing (mostly boring, in my opinion) "symphonies" for large electric guitar ensembles, spawning legions of bespectacled imitators (anyone remember that DC band called Tone?) and occasionally striking gold. But this is rooted in whatever rock (or I guess, no wave) scene he came out of and it recalls a time when New York City was still a scummy, dirty place. 45 rpm as well, and on the same label as ESG!

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