Taking titular inspiration from Warmed by Love -- a book of poetry authored by Leonard Nimoy -- Wormed by Leonard was originally released by these Bay Area braniacs via cassette in 1988. A press release accompanying this CD/LP reissue half-jokingly refers to it as the earliest non-embarrassing chapter in these transplanted Iowans' career; in actuality, Wormed transcends historical-footnote status by holding its own as a current release. All of the Thinking Fellers' trademark elements appear in nascent glory, from alternatively tuned string-tornado rave-ups and enigmatic home recordings to quirky pop distillations and jokey goofs.
After kicking off on a ludicrously casual note with a messy minute of string-generated feedback and disorder titled "It's Seven," Wormed quickly turns to the Fellers' strengths, segueing into the chiming, airy guitar interplay of "Hell Rules." The band later hands us "Milvus Spectre," a phantasmal half-speed premonition of the upcoming space-western "Narvus Spectre," and who should subsequently stroll down the sidewalk but "Nipper," guitarist/vocalist Hugh Swarts' long-lost sociopathic pooch. Best give 'em wide berth, cuz Nipper likes to lunge.
And so it goes for 14 more tracks, equal parts mad-scientist genre graftings, dynamic guitar-noise forays, and oddly infectious ditties like "Truck Drivin' Man." Many of these tunes might be immediately recognizable, even to those who've never heard the original tape. "Motorin' Flarey Henderson," one of the quintet's first jams, eventually transmuted into "Sister Hell" on the Tangle LP, and several other tunes still surface live on occasion. The Fellers have long since sworn off playing "Nipper," though, so don't even ask.
The final six bonus blasts on this 26-tracker -- aka Side D for those antiquarians who opt for the glorious gatefold double LP -- were recorded around the Wormed era (1986-89). Slightly embarrassing chapters, perhaps, but eminently worth a listen, in particular "Superstar," a slug-paced take on the Carpenters' classic far more unsettling than Sonic Youth's later version, and "Squidder Boy," which kinda sounds like the rantings of Grandpa Simpson on a bourbon bender: something about purple skin, machine guns, large, pasty women, and hip boots.
TFU Local 282 play Sat, Oct. 28, and Sun, Oct. 29, at the Kilowatt in S.F.; call 861-2595.
-- Mike Rowell
Dragsploitation ... Now!!
Dredging the dreck of lo-fi, hi-octane blues, Albuquerque's Drags dish diamond-size ditties that drip with dissonance. Dabbling in the danky drunk-tank among the Cramps, Gories, and Headcoats, the Drags delve deep to deliver deafening drawls with drama and doggerel. Darlings of the Estrus roster, the Dragsters -- CJ dangles his guitar, Lorca drubs her bass, and Keith dents his drums -- drop dexterously into an already divergent domain.
Dig the delicious dada of "Teenage Invasion"! Drop-kick "Mr. Undertaker" to his damnable demise! Dare to discover the dreadful and downhearted "Don't Need You Anymore"! Doff your derby to "Can't Change My Style"!
The Drags' only drawback is their diminutive dub: With eight tracks done in 14 minutes, Dragsploitation ... Now!! is dinkier than a dachsund, its deafness inducing dollops dutifully delivered in a dream's duration. But desist, darling, from dissing or dismissing the Drags' dwarf-size debut as dreadful drivel, disposing the disc in Daljeet's dumpster. Duly dole out your dollars and descend into "10th Man Theme," a dark dirge decorated with devilish dual-whammy dexterity. Or devote a dram to the dorky and driving "My Girlfriend's in the FBI," in which a dynamic dame turned double agent dutifully "reads a lot of books" to "catch a lot of crooks" and gets deployed to defuse and dissect dynamite -- a "letter bomb sent" to the "pres-i-dent" -- before it detonates the domicile of our dreary, duff-dwelling Democrat.
Dangerous and daring, the Drags' debut demonstrates discordant dexterity to delightful dispatch, a dandy defense against the degenerate doldrums. Drink a daily dose.
The Drags play Thurs, Oct. 26, at the Great American Music Hall in S.F.; call 885-0750.
-- Colin Berry
The Hits, Rare Tracks, and Outtakes Collection: 1975-1989
Italy is a country that aspires to be over the top ("Yer the president, fer Chrissake, you don't haf to be a criminal"), so it's no surprise that its musicians embraced progressive rock at its most excessive and demonic. That is, to the point of replacing what would seem to be perfectly attenuated accompaniment for imported films with the sort of "Tubular Bells" and flangy guitar masturbation now associated in the U.S. with either suicidal Midwestern boys or, in the case of Rinde Eckert and Philip Glass, NEA grants. But then, with Mariah Carey about to shoot to domination with a cover of Journey's "Open Arms," what do I know, except that it will be the spiritual peak of the decade?
Goblin is slasher king Dario Argento's house band, and has scored plenty of B-movies that transcend their genre (another Italian specialty). If I haven't interested you by now, I have failed as a critic. As a compilation, this Goblin retrospective is very complete, and features much material previously unavailable -- this despite the fact that obscurely legendary Italian prog-rockers PFM had a contract on Emerson, Lake, & Palmer's label! For some reason, the liner notes do not list the names of the band members. Perhaps it does not matter.
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
Symphony no. 9 (l'eve future)
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 protgs 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
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