Creem APRIL 1979 - by Richard C. Walls


Welcome to the unwave. I haven't heard so much ferociously avant-garde and aggressively ugly music since Albert Ayler puked all over my brain back in - what? - 64. And like Ayler, who started at the end of his development and then started working his way backward (and eventually jumped into the Hudson River for a permanent swim), this music has no future. But it does have a vindictive present. It's a nihilistic burnt-out last blast of mangled energy that scours the spirit. Its cleansing power that is unreal - spend a few hours with this record and then everything sounds different.

The spirit scourers are four New York underground rock groups - The Contortions, Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, Mars, and DNA - each represented by four selections. The lyrics of each song are textbook surrealistic (yes, there's a lyric sheet, printed in late Beckett blocked paragraphs, and for some reason they're on the inside of the record sleeve so you have to rip the sleeve apart to get at em) and the music of each group falls somewhere between Velvet Underground electric and Loft Jazz sound and silence seminars. But the lyrics (almost all of 'em unintelligible without the lyric sheet) and the music (with its avant-garde conventions) ain't where the excitement lies on this album. It's the uses of voice which give the record its apocalyptic ambiance and each group its individual face.

And a bizarre collection of faces they are. The Contortions are fronted by James Chance, whose vocals are unrelentingly jacked up to shouting level, the words of his exhortation lost in his open-throated approach. The effect is numbing. The trio of Jerks are led by Lydia Lunch who plays a droning lead guitar and favors a whooping (as in whoo-OOPA) vocal inflection. Listening to her is about as pleasant as being kicked in the stomach. Mars has your typical Martian chipmunks suspended in jelly sound while DNA, the most conservative of the four, is somewhat reminiscent of Eno, who produced the album. It all amounts to a solid statement of no-ness which shakes the listener's complacency and (this is important) gives you something new to think about. Still...what do they do for an encore?

If you're intrepid enough to want to hear this stuff (a friend, 3/4 into the first side, complained that the music was painful - she wasn't referring to any abstract reaction, she was grimacing), be advised that Antilles is a division of Island Records, which ain't exactly Transamerica Corp. You'll probably have to make a little effort to procure it, because there's no way it's going to come to you.