Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Residents, DUCK STAB

Ralph, 1978; reissued several times, most recently by Mute; available

14 tracks, 35:07

Let's face it, if you've kept up with me thus far, there's a 99.9% chance you know who these guys are. Which is funny, since the general public literally doesn't know who the members are! Anyways, the first seven tracks on this album were originally released as a 7" EP; later the same year, DUCK STAB was paired with the aborted BUSTER & GLEN EP to make a fourteen-track LP. Initially called DUCK STAB/BUSTER & GLEN, most reissues since have simply used DUCK STAB (and I hope this is the last time I write that title in this review!). This is from the stage in the Residents' early years when they primarily used synths for instrumentation. Musically, these tracks were the catchiest material the group had ever unleashed. This particular album shares a lot with minimal synth and electro-no wave artists such as Fad Gadget and Dark Day. Tracks such as "Weight-Lifting Lulu" and "Blue Rosebuds" are based around two or so synths at a time, accompanied by the singing Resident's unmistakable vocals. Guest vocalist Ruby turns in an inspired performance on "The Electrocutioner", and usual collaborator Snakefinger adds his inimitable guitar throughout, but otherwise it's just four guys and their synths creating a unique blend of avant-garde and pop on their own terms. If you're new to the Residents, this is probably the most accessible entry point to their vast catalog, but it does pale slightly in comparison to their other early work.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Thomas Leer and Robert Rental, THE BRIDGE

Industrial Records, 1979; reissued by Mute/The Grey Area; available

9 tracks, 43:20

Scottish musicians Robert Rental (born Robert Donnachie) and Thomas Leer had each released an important indie single a year before this collaboration. Leer's offering was the poppy lo-fi "Private Plane"/"International", and Rental's was the weird industrial "Paralysis"/"A.C.C.". Having relocated to England, the two mavericks were lent 8-tracks by Throbbing Gristle so they could record this album. As the liner notes point out, this was recorded in a two week span (June 18th to July 2nd) in one of their homes; interestingly, the back cover notes "all blips & unseemly noises were generated by refrigerators & other domestic appliances & are intrinsic to the music"! Both musicians take turns on guitar, synths, "synth percussion" (more on that later), bass, and other noises. THE BRIDGE is divided into two distinct halves; the A-side features vocal work, while the B-side has four tracks of pure ambience. The vocal songs are definitely in a post-punk/synthpop mode. Leer sings lead on four tracks; the fuzzy "Connotations" and the bizarrely catchy "Monochrome Day's" are definite highlights. Rental takes the lead on "Day Breaks, Night Heals", and this creepy gem is the absolute standout. What's interesting about the percussion is that Leer and Rental didn't use a drum machine. Instead, they pounded out rhythms on synth and made tape loops of the results. While primitive, this technique lends a unique touch to these tracks. The flipside is a completely different story. Rental is credited with tapes, loops, and voice for this side, while Leer takes on synths, tapes, and voice (that's voice, not vocals). Long drones and loops, accompanied by TV sounds and those other "unseemly noises", flow effortlessly towards dark chillout bliss. The lengthy "Interferon" is the standout here, but the other three are amazing as well. Both sides add up to what is one of the best releases from Industrial Records; thank goodness Mute reissued it! Around this time, Rental released an extremely rare demo called MENTAL DETENTIONS; this completely instrumental gem of early industrial heaven also features Leer on a few tracks and DEFINITELY deserves a reissue. Leer still has a synthpop career, and for a while was in Act; some is worth investigating, some isn't. Rental would collaborate with the Normal (Daniel Miller, Mute head honcho) on a single-sided live album (rare but worth the hunt); his last output was the excellent "Double Heart"/On Location" single on Mute, featuring DAF's Robert Görl on drums and Leer on piano (also recommended). After this, he retired from music to raise a family, sadly passing away in 2000. The fact that so little of Rental's output exists is reason enough to buy THE BRIDGE, but the music more than justifies adding it to your collection.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Trident, 1974; reissued by Artis and Arcangelo; available

Artis CD; 11 tracks, 46:07

The long-running Opus Avantra sought to combine the avant-garde with the traditional (hence AvanTra). Alfredo Tisocco is both the pianist/keyboardist and the musical mastermind; divine singer Donella Del Monaco* is the lyrical genius. Flautist Luciano Tavella, violinists Enrico Professione and Pieregidio Spiller, cellist Riccardo Perraro, drummer Pierdino Tisato, and percussionist/effects man Tony Esposito round out the group on this, their debut outing. While definitely within the classically influenced realm of most of their Italian contemporaries, Opus Avantra bring more than a bit of avant tweaking to their sound. The two-minute title track** opens the album; it's a bizarre bit of musique concrete, leading directly into the next song. Track two, "Les Plaisirs Sont Doux", features Del Monaco's gorgeous vocals singing French against a purely classical backdrop, accompanied by a spoken word double-tracking. From here highlights are hard to pick out, as the music veers from beautiful folk to ominous dark prog, always peppered with bits of odd production and sound effects. The drumming throughout is definitely jazz-rock inspired, which makes for an interesting accompaniment to what is otherwise a mostly classical lineup. The closing "Rituale" brings everything to a furiously rocking end, with proto-breakbeat percission and the most frenzied performance by Del Monaco. As a bonus, the Artis CD contains "Introspezione (Integrale)", which is the full six-minute version of the title track. In this form, it's an even more stunning bit of concrete experimentation. While all their albums are worth a listen, this debut outing is simultaneously Opus Avantra's most daring and enjoyable work. I love it, even if I don't understand any of the (mostly Italian) lyrics!

*Donella Del Monaco would be absent on Opus Avantra's next outing, but she's on most of their other albums. She also has a solo career that might be worth investigating.

**"Introspezione" (and by extension, "Introspezione (Integrale)") is credited to Tisocco, Esposito, Giorgio Bisotto, and Mireno Tisato.