Hole's long-awaited follow-up to their breakthrough 1994 album Live Through This is a triumphant return unparalleled since Elvis' historic 1968 comeback TV special. But unlike the King, Hole are not trying to prove that they still look good in leather. Instead, the band — with Courtney Love at the helm — wants to show how much they've grown. On Deeper Hole will undoubtedly surprise alternative-rock kiddies with their daring embrace of a presumably played-out genre, but in the able hands of Love and her band, the style sometimes referred to as British metal has never sounded so vital.

The clear influence of Diamond Head, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden is all over Deeper, most shockingly on the album's opener, a scorching paean to individual freedom called “My Prescription.” The blazing guitar lead that seamlessly segues into Love's caterwauling shriek explosively broadcasts that real reinvention is at hand. (Now Hole's 1996 version of the Fleetwood Mac tune “Gold Dust Woman” can be seen as an early indication of this sonic sea change. Who can forget that Judas Priest's star rose in the States only after their pioneering cover of the Mac's “Green Manalishi”?)

True to the form, there are plenty of galloping riffs and squealing guitar solos on Deeper, but Hole's interpretation is not strictly a recitation of lessons learned from the masters. The dual guitar solo on “Queen Bee” proves that Love has had plenty of time to practice her scales in between Versace fittings, and the subtlety and inventiveness of her playing are beyond anything heard since Priest axeman K.K. Downing shredded his fretboard. Gone are her punk-inspired flailings, replaced instead with a sense of tonality and voicing that owes much more to the music of Schoenberg and Coltrane than the distorted minor chords of Kurt Cobain. Eric Erlandson also shows that he knows what to do with a 32-bar solo, filling the lead section of the demonic blues rave-up “Daddy Sleeps Alone” with what seems like an impossible number of notes.

The only misstep on this remarkable album is the somewhat sterile remake of the Motsrhead track “Love Me Like a Reptile.” Elsewhere, Love and company bury their predecessors, but other than a stunning high-pitched squeal toward the song's finale, this isn't much more than a rote rendition of a classic. Neither will questions about Love's authorship of her songs be soon resolved if she insists on including tracks like “Marked” — shockingly close to Maiden's “The Number of the Beast” — or the album's only nod to her own roots, the raging but uncomfortably familiar album closer “Town Spirit,” which bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Nirvana's most famous song. (Love sings, “How low, how low, hello.”) On the other hand, the overall sound of Deeper couldn't be further from Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, or Blinker the Star, whose leaders were long rumored to be lending Love a helping hand.

Nevermind authorship, Hole have produced an album that meets and beats the seemingly insurmountable expectations that preceded it. Deeper is a triumph, not only as a record, but as a heartwarming story of perseverance over musical stagnation and bad press.

— Paul Kimball

Various Artists
Essential Pebbles, Volume One

The material remains of previous cultures explain the beliefs and creations of current generations. Or at least archaeologists like to think so. Occasionally, the astute observer unearths such a relationship between obscure, forgotten cavities of material culture and its modern-day descendants. As the archaeologist discovers, sometimes the most pertinent and interesting elements of culture are those ideas that remain buried beneath the ruins of dominant systems.

Such is the aim of the long-running, now 28-volume Pebbles compilation series. Each record is an archaeological project, a collection of extremely obscure garage punk songs long lost beneath the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, and other dominant hit-makers of the American cultural adolescence otherwise known as rock 'n' roll. As proved by the Pebbles collections, the late '60s were peppered by an unthinkable number of never-been guitar heroes and no-hit-wonder psych-rock bands whose sounds often inspired well-loved pop tunes. In the same way, there are unfathomably subterranean groups today influencing (and eking out an existence beneath) tepid alternative and mainstream rock.

Essential Pebbles, Volume One plucks the most eructatious and ass-slappin' songs from the Pebbles compilation series. Disc 1, which culls recordings from the first 10 volumes, is a foundation for the Pebbles novice. Disc 2, for the seasoned archivist, contains 26 unreleased rockers that never made it into the series until now. Each tune of this 55-song double CD set presents another dimension of rock swagger and apocalyptic brevity; in total, it's punk rock in its most energized, infectious, and primordial form. The result is a string of rock 'n' roll hits as hummable as they are inspiring to smash up the living room.

Disc 1's slightly more familiar underground '60s rock faves are all fuzz-drenched guitars and vocal snot. The Preachers' “Who Do You Love,” the Bo Diddley shakedown covered by a zillion bands, opens the side with confrontational vocal grit and writhing guitars. The JuJus offer “You Treat Me Bad,” a bitter pop tune with the ravaged echoplex vocals popularized by Phil Spector lolling atop cheesy organ and clean-strum guitars. The Green Fuz shimmy the bent-guitar and declarative vocals of their self-titled song (later immortalized by the Cramps). Plague's “Go Away” throws a mean-spirited riff up against a barrage of bass, drums, and pissed-off vocals lifted straight from the Kinks' “You Really Got Me.” Immediately thereafter, the Gentlemen declare “It's a Crying Shame” with the driving backbeat and ensemble vocals later melded into “What I Like About You,” the Top 10 hit for '80s retro-rockers the Romantics. The signature three-part vocal harmonies, minor-chord electric organ, and slithering bass of Foggy Notions' “Need a Little Lovin' ” sound at least as urgent as those by more popular acts like the Zombies. “Shattered” by the Good Feelings delivers the dual-fuzzed guitars and wailing organ popularized by the Seeds. Unlike today's streamlined garage rock, which strains out all the elements of neo-Victorian harmonies and spooky organs in favor of supercharged distorted guitars and angry vocals, this collection presents the romantic undercurrents within the sounds of the age's lesser-known bands.

Disc 2 contains the real gems. The collection of 26 extremely rare recordings includes songs by groups so esoteric that even the folks at AIP have no idea of the artists' names! The Shays nail “Brainwashed,” an MC5-style political anthem complete with rollicking piano, bitterly soul-spiked vocals, and distorted guitars. Sound Apparatus emit jagged drums and cute wannabe-English accents on the three-minute epic “Travel Agent Man” — a song epitomizing the hunger for metaphors to describe the psychedelic drug experience. The Hustlers' somber “Sky Is Black” sets a mood of obscurity as crackles (the studio tapes long lost, the actual single was used in mastering) interrupt the often out-of-tune vocals and distant piano. An unknown artist offers furious jabs of frenzied punk on “I Just Don't Know” with inspired throat-searing vocals and flailing rhythms.

Essential Pebbles, a sort of Dead Sea Scrolls for the punk archaeologist, is best heard collectively. Collective, as in with a group of friends and as a constant shuffle of unfamiliar voices and unknown bands that inappropriately scratch themselves in public and kick out the kind of jams that make us call in sick the next day.

— Dave Clifford

Tom Nunn
Wisdom of the Impulse: On the Nature of Musical Free Improvisation

Edgewalker Experimental
Instruments Consort
Peering Over

Veteran improviser and experimental-instrument builder Tom Nunn's meticulously analytical book Wisdom of the Impulse demystifies the oft misconstrued concept of free improvisation. Without dissing thoroughly notated compositions, Nunn argues that free improv, “an art that is entirely generated spontaneously,” is not only a valid approach to music-making but a vital one because its “responsive impulse” directly reflects the human condition and espouses “the value of diversity and equality.” He believes that the music brings “all sorts of styles together to a neutral place where all can coexist. It is a celebration of differences and an affirmation of similarities.”

Though its roots in the West date back almost 500 years to the improvised passages of liturgical chants, the practice of totally free improv didn't begin to take shape until the late 1950s and early '60s when the consciousness-shaking inventions of classical pioneers like Charles Ives, Harry Partch, and John Cage met the innovations of free-jazz progenitors Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. Groups like New Music Ensemble, Scratch Orchestra, and AMM took these ideas one step further by breaking away from stylistic forms and relying only on what AMM drummer Eddie Provost calls “the power of intuition but with a rational perspective.”

Successful free improvisation requires what Nunn calls “active” or “creative listening,” not only by the musicians but by the audience as well. Since this kind of music is self-generative (meaning its compositional content derives solely out of the moment-to-moment interactions and relational shifts between the players), you won't hear hummable verse-chorus-verse song structures. Rather, various elements of the music transmute subtly and/or dramatically, often at lightning speed, and sometimes in multiple directions at once.

In an attempt to make sense of this mind-boggling complexity, Nunn has drawn charts to illustrate “the influences and processes” of a few musical examples. He identifies and elucidates notions of transition, meta-style, gestural continuity, and other formal aspects, but not unlike Anthony Braxton's erudite Composition Notes, these dense chapters will most likely be lost on all but the musicologist. Simply put, an uninitiated audience can get the most meaning out of improvised music by listening with an open mind. Albums like Peering Over, the debut recording by the 15-member Edgewalker Experimental Instruments Consort, are ideal ear-opening vehicles since, as Nunn explains, “listener expectations are all but nullified because the instruments are unfamiliar.”

The Edgewalker Consort performs semidirected and completely free improvisations on Tom Nunn's specially designed electro-acoustic percussion boards, space plates, and balloon/slap drums. Constructed out of ordinary materials like plywood or stainless steel sheets, bronze rods, strings, balloons, and PVC pipes, the instruments evoke sounds both strange (otherworldly vibes, underwater gurgles, ghostly drones) and startling (metallic crashes, industrial machinations). Everything from violin bows to knitting needles is used to effect a rainbow of timbral colors. Deep percussive layers and variable microtonal pitches create a full, yet somewhat bent group sound reminiscent at times of Harry Partch and Balinese gamelan. The ensemble cast comes to the music from a variety of disciplines — e.g., Garth Powell (jazz), William Winant (20th-century classical), Lisa Moskow (Indian) — yet in a genuine egalitarian display, each player yields to the collective imagination. That's what free improvisation is all about.

Tom Nunn performs at a book/CD release party at Venue 9 (252 Ninth St.) on Wednesday, April 1, at 8 p.m.

— Sam Prestianni

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