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16 September 2010

John Cale and Terry Riley - 'Church of Anthrax' (Columbia)

When titans meet! Except this is really surprisingly grounded in art-rock stomp, much closer to a solo Cale than Riley's stuff. It's hard to deny that this sounded like an avant-minimal supergroup on paper, yet the execution is less than amazing. It's good though -- but not one of the best records by either artist. If anything, it's too much of "here's what I do and here's what you do" -- not so surprising. They clearly strive for a balance between them, made the most evident in 'Ides of March' where we literally have Cale doing his piano thing and Riley doing his, with a different drummer behind each. As a bit of stereo experimentation it's rudimentary, but as a work of polyrhytmic sketching, it's sort of great. But first things first -- 'Church of Anthrax' blasts off the vinyl like a locomotive, and pounds away almost relentlessly. There's more of a focus on Dream Syndicate monotony than Riley's harmonic gliding, which is saved for next track. But as 'Church' pounds away, the layered organs and keyboards flex the right amount of muscle; the bassline ascends forever, picking a hole into my brain. So when Cale's microtonal piano meets the palace of mirrors in Versailles, it's awesome how Riley's reverb-drenched sax teases things. Riley is playful and a bit sassy; Cale is practically lowbrow in his Palestineque technique. The sax part is like 'Music from The Gift' all over again, but with the scary, unknown 70's looming ahead. There's an oceanic tide that darts around this double-helix, but at times, it feels like an afterthought. When it turns more thoughtful, I love the warm buzz underneath as it takes it's own natural breaths. It's a coda to side one, and a hell of way to fade out. After the flip, Adam Miller sings 'The Soul of Patrick Lee', which is such a John Cale solo song it's almost a parody. It has the same guitar riff as 'Venus in Furs' but then that moody, literate sensibility that he perfected on Paris 1919. I'm trapped more in the dark-psyche side of Cale here than I'd like to be -- I much prefer the sentimental, nostalgic whinging -- but it's okay. Riley is only plinking a few piano keys here, so it's funny to think of him as a mere sideman. Does 'Patrick Lee' stick out like the sore thumb of an otherwise instrumental record? Quite a bit, yeah, but maybe that's why it's smart in the middle. 'Ides of March', as already stated, is the meat of side 2, and it starts to take on a 'Bad Bad Leroy Brown' feel after about 8 minutes, which is probably just a successful sign of the delirium they were trying to induce. 'The Protege' closes things, a mirror image of 'Church of Anthrax', with pounding bass and drums and an elegant, slightly dirty edge to the piano part. The dissonance creaks out of the edges rather than being front and centre, and then there's a surprise ending which just sounds like a mastering error. Hmmmm. I remember buying this when on a trip to England, when I still lived in the US - it was a reissue (or maybe bootleg?), with a nice glossy cover and a pretty good sound to it. The shop proprietor made a comment about why would I come all the way to England to buy an American LP, but I don't think things are as simple as that.

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