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V/A - Amplified: New Music Meets Rock, 1981-1986

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Artist: V/A

Album: Amplified: New Music Meets Rock, 1981-1986

Label: Orange Mountain

Review date: Jul. 18, 2006

Amplified documents the dramatic merger of avant garde minimalist composition and punk that occurred at some point or points around the commencement of the 1980s, traced easily to the Rotten Apple (back when it was dangerous, man). It’s a period that’s already being rapidly canonized and romanticized. So it’s a pleasant surprise to hear how filthy some of this stuff still sounds, particularly on these long-in-the-tooth reel-to-reels, culled from performances at the New York club, The Kitchen.

Sonic Youth’s contributions are considerably less empty and abrasive than much of its forthcoming studio material (anyone popped in Confusion Is Sex/Kill Yr Idols lately?), but it’s still the work of a band that hasn’t quite settled on an emotional context for its droning, rattling catharsis. SY’s explosive, retarded cousins Swans are much more effective; their entries document a show that was literally unplugged by the cops, and they remain frighteningly raw and draining compared to most anything they helped spawn. Bandleader Michael Gira’s bellowed, agonized nihilism provides a.) a clear clue as to the origins of industrial metal, and b.) a fascinating counterpoint to his haunting, complex, clinically intelligent mid-to-late-period work. In both cases, the past throws warm light on the present, but the Swans ditties bring the more then-vital, less now-retrievable noise.

Two poignant, hypnotic pieces from cellist Arthur Russell make this an intriguing little radio station to pick up; the gentleness and discipline of his music lend some ideas of where the rest of these angry young cats are headed. Russell also plays in the scene supergroup Bill’s Friends, in which Jill Kroesen’s off-kilter vocals foreshadow the smug beasties of Chicago No Wave.

The much-cited Rhys Chatham lends more than an idea – his sprawling, rhythmic, overtone-heavy symphonies, particularly “Guitar Trio” (here preserved), drew as clear a map for Sonic Youth and Swans as anything else did. Even the most overtly rebellious New Yorkers know their way around overstatement.

As always, proto-turntablist Christian Marclay is the odd man out. Watching his “to-and-fro-nograph” in action must’ve been a revelation, but for kids who proudly owe half their record collections to Chatham, the excerpt from Marclay’s “His Master’s Voice” included here may raise the question of whether or not A-Trak and DJ Shadow will be completely unlistenable 10 years from now.

If this stuff is going to be a museum fixture, then these recordings, in all its poorly preserved glory, might be the best way to hear it now. But the best way to honor it is to find something this brave and inventive going on in your own city, or make it happen yourself.

By Emerson Dameron

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