Recordings

I cannot fully endorse Goblin's aesthetic aims, but I, too, have a fondness for excess, having read about it in books. Strangely enough, this is music deeply felt if not emotional, despite its basis in a profoundly exploitative genre (I refer to art rock, not gore flicks). Goblin's music did not shrink with the '90s, as others' did. Don't Stop Believing.

-- D. Strauss

Glenn Branca
Symphony no. 9 (l'eve future)
(POINT Music)

As the original no wave guitarrorist extraordinaire, Glenn Branca was a master at distilling aural hallucinations from the idiomatic language of the electric guitar. His late-'70s "guitar symphonies" (often written for multiple guitars all tuned to a single note) were short on melody, but that wasn't the point: Branca's goal was to bring out harmonic nuances that weren't there in a strictly musical sense, but that did seem to emerge under conditions of extreme amplification and repetition. Either that, or it was the buzz of mass tinnitus at work.

It was a controversial approach, so much so that legendary minimalist John Cage (who had rankled a few classically weaned ears himself) was moved to call Branca's work "fascist." But when your musical training consisted of studying the overtones produced by the electric fan in your bedroom, as Branca's reportedly did, you're destined to furrow a crusty old brow or two.

For every detractor, though, there was a convert to his assault of holy noise -- most notably, Branca protŽgŽs Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore, who went on to conjure up their own sonic spooks. For that, we can all be grateful (the fact that theory-addled math rocker Page Hamilton was also spawned from Branca's ensemble will have to be forgiven; you can't keep the riffraff out all the time).

Branca eschewed the six-string some time ago in favor of more traditional orchestral voices, but Symphony no. 9 (l'eve future) finds him up to his old tricks. Led by the 47-minute-plus title track ("Freeform," a second piece, still manages to clock in at 11:43), Symphony no. 9 is, according to ensemble alum Tim Holmes' hyperbolic liner notes, "an undulating extended movement of impossible contradictions: at once expanding and contracting, ascending & descending, accelerating & decelerating, intervallic contrapuntal modules overlapping & splitting with the organic elegance and inevitability of mitosis on an intergalactic scale, sublime, enigmatic, and divine."

Well, yes -- but let's not forget that Lou Reed once claimed that you could hear Beethoven and Mozart passages within the mechanical screech of his own Metal Machine Music. Performed by the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra under the guidance of conductor Christian von Borries, Symphony no. 9 boasts an entrancing ominous quality, and the subverbal choral voices of the Camerata Silosia Singers, freed from the constructs of language, lend an appropriately disembodied air to the piece.

But whether it's a subtly unfolding, multilayered excursion into an uncharted musical universe or not is still up for debate, and 50 minutes is ample time to outline at least a constellation or two. Bogged down by its overly ponderous conceptual convolutions, Symphony no. 9 doesn't so much explore as it meanders. In a circle. For 50 minutes. Listen to it forward, backward, broken up into chunks, or on infinite repeat until your cochleae wither from the strain, the net effect is only slightly less torporific than watching a slice of bread grow mold.

Perhaps Branca should take a lesson from his former students and inject a much needed sense of dynamics into his ambient flights of fancy. At the very least, he could throw an electric fan or two into the mix for good pleasure.

-- Tim Kenneally

Mr. Bungle
Disco Volante
(Warner Bros.)

To paraphrase Stork Club booker/Idiot Flesh co-conspirator Lorrie Murray, this record's going to annoy a lot of people, and that's just the way Mr. Bungle wants it. The Bay Area band's iconoclastic mania hails from the same edge of the universe as the Mothers of Invention, John Zorn, Ruins, and other practitioners of the frighteningly bizarre. Much like Zappa or the Boredoms, tunes like "Violenza Domestica," featuring an odd juxtaposition of bandoneon and haunted samples, and "After School Special," with its creepy "Why are you touching me?" refrain, offer warped humor with the demented grooves.

Employing gargantuan self-production, crescendoing dynamics, a slew of twisted electronics, and wide-ranging instrumentation from clarinet to glockenspiel (with guest percussion by William Winant), Disco Volante picks up where the group's self-titled debut left off, as if four years and bandmate involvement in numerous other Bay Area ensembles (Dieselhed, Graham Connah Group, Snorkel, the Three Doctors, and Faith No More) have served to fuel rather than diminish the Bungle vision.

Mr. Bungle experiments with many genres at once, crafting songs from a blitzkrieg of riff and rhythm shifts that morph at least every 45 seconds. Anticipating what lies beyond the next speed-metal barrage or "96 Tears"-like keyboard phrase (both can be found in "Carry Stress in the Jaw") will be exhilarating for some, maddening for others. The only given in Mr. Bungle's collage-style approach is that they will definitely fuck shit up. And they'll do so with ferocious creativity.

-- Sam Prestianni

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