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V/A - Space is No Place, NYC: Noise from the Underground

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Artist: V/A

Album: Space is No Place, NYC: Noise from the Underground

Label: Psych-o-Path

Review date: Oct. 17, 2003

Despite all the bright lights shining on New York City rock these days, tiny scenes of vibrant music still remain overlooked in the grimy corners of the city. Some of those wonderful weirdoes find a home on the compilation Space is No Place, NYC: Noise from the Underground. Most importantly, this wild collection contains exclusive music from obscure artists – addressing two of the most pressing requirements for a successful compilation effort.

At first, this record seems to be something it is not. The objects “NYC” and “Noise” in the title could indicate the umpteenth collection of post-punk/no wave to appear this year. Instead of more downtown Neo-1970s, though, this record bumps to a very different drummer. Space is No Place assembles a strange stew of sound, with influences including Pussy Galore’s trash-noise, free jazz, psychedelic rock, and improvised music.

2003 has been busy for the No Neck Blues Band. After releasing their second studio record, they embarked on a highly publicized tour (at least, “highly” in comparison to their previous schedule of spontaneous rooftops), and were the subjects of a lengthy article by Dusted’s Marc Gilman. Such appearances will no doubt garner some well-deserved appreciation of NNCK’s method, music, and mystery, and their appearance on this compilation offers some grounding. While they may not be the oldest organization here, they have probably been haunting New York’s streets for the longest period of time, and their tribal improvised sounds inform many of the other groups on this record.

In particular, the playful vocal babbles of Naturally recall the mumbling and banshee shrieking around No Neck’s campfire. Axolotl’s rattling, warbling soup sits nicely with both NNCK and Jackie-O Motherfucker’s sound. And the shortwave guitar interplay of Enos Slaughter also reflects their influence. Granted, one member of Enos Slaughter also plays in No Neck, but it still counts.

Sightings offer layers of stripped distortion and cymbal clang moving at the speed of industry. Their rote factory rhythm feels nothing if not mechanical – a subway axle or damaged conveyor belt making its rounds. The group Jesus With Me also stands up a thick wall of noise texture that grinds forward to a pulsing kick drum. Less than “forward,” however, these two groups slow time to a crawl and invite a closer listening of their dense abrasion. For those willing to take the leap, these prickly seas offer much to grab onto.

Electro Putas and Mountains of Mata Llama offer a more psychedelic vision. The former actually bounces to a three-note groove. The rhythm section pushes on through a fog of distorted guitar, occasionally disappearing, but offering some conventional structure to the proceedings. Mountains of Mata Llama sound the most like a freak out session from the 1960s, all wah-ing guitar, airy percussion, and loose melodies.

Terrestrial Tones change the pace and palette considerably with one of the best songs in the collection. Their electronics sink into a Pole-like weight at first, very spacious fuzzy pops in a slowly phasing rhythm. Pleasant rings and swoops drop in occasionally as new layers of static edge emerge, not only enriching the texture, but also piling on more rhythmic density. This wonderful sound morphs into sharper angles before stopping entirely too quickly.

The only other overtly electronic sounds come from Las Malas Amistades, a Colombian group who recently moved to New York City. “Discoteca adentro” is a quiet Casio ditty with a melodic hook and purred Spanish vocals – a bit out of place, perhaps, but not unwelcome. This lo-fi gem is a pleasant surprise as the compilation’s final track.

The challenge to any compilation author remains to collect a set of music that, while different enough to maintain interest, still draws cohesive links. Space music uses rhythm as a question mark. Rarely does it create a foundation for other elements to sit upon; instead it stops time or compounds a dense combination. Shifting layers are the order of the day, whether electronic, percussive, or vocal (not just the babbles and shrieks, but also the ecstatic Greek chorus of Flaming Fire). Collaboration and intermingling are the standard. The past is merely a stepping stone, ripe for interpretation and blasphemous recombination; not a fixed point for further codification.

Space is No Place posits a very different New York noise than many other accounts. Recent compilations attempt to define and declare genres that have already been thoroughly worn over. By offering such an adventurous collection of smartly related music, this record makes a bold statement during a time of frequent regurgitation.

By Jeff Seelbach

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