Dusted Reviews

V/A - Anti NY

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: V/A

Album: Anti NY

Label: Gomma

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

The recent proliferation of reissues on independent labels is a simultaneously glorious and maddening affair. On the most basic level of listening pleasure, arguably the only that matters, exceptional music from various periods and genres is circulating again. On the other hand, it’s incredibly difficult to find a context for evaluation of the material. Even the most well-documented periods of production render at best a vicarious, two-dimensional atmosphere in retrospect, generally reduced to social and political phenomena; furthermore, any album sufficiently “groundbreaking” to merit reissue is peerless by virtue of the very ground it managed to break, leaving such reference points as influence and environment inaccessible, if not altogether nonexistent.

Such is not, for better or worse, the case with the recent Gomma compilation Anti NY, a collection vaunted as “rare music from the early 80s New York underground and some contemporary versions.” Rare, indeed; most of this music never saw the light of day in proper release, and some of these folks have been dead for years, though we’re barely 20 years out at this point. Fortunately, however, the luminary likes of artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel and self-proclaimed renaissance man Vincent Gallo have been quick to remind us of what we missed out on: there have been two films on Jean-Michel Basquiat (whose band Gray appears here in a mildly inspired exercise in improv atmospherics), as well as countless museum and gallery retrospectives on the period, all of which conspires to make this particular underground a bit less than obscure.

Of course, obscurity is hardly a criterion for appraisal, and this album has its moments, mostly in an art-house party style that would seem to coincide quite well with the aesthetic of the Lower East Side before its dissolution into bourgeois hell. The selection of material here is as diverse and democratic as any movement of musical amalgamation, mixing traces of dub reggae, post-punk and free jazz with the burgeoning stylistics of synth-pop and early hip-hop. Perhaps the only relevant genre not represented on Anti NY is the anti-rock of seminal figures like Arto Lindsay and Ikue Mori, whose DNA outfit continues to elude the documentation it deserves. This affair, however, is a bit less noisy.

The first LP, comprised entirely of original recordings from the period, culminates with the contribution of Sexual Harrassment, who accomplish the noble task of describing a party in a song one may actually play at a social function. “If I Gave You a Party” coordinates lo-fi synths, post-punk breaks and double entendre sexual poetics with a dexterity incredible for a band with very little recorded output. All of the seven bands on the album possess unique elements of instrumentation and a certain claim to compositional innovation, but few of them yield these devices as well as Sexual Harrassment, whose absurdist posturing plays par with any electro-pop act in recent years.

Less adamant about transcending the 80s is Death Comet Crew and Rammellzee’s “Exterior St.,” a song that nonetheless set the standard for the spitfire, literate rhyming that continues to remain prevalent in underground hip-hop. In addition to lyricism, the track features a kraut-oriented texture of urban drone, as prevalent on the Neu! recordings. Death Comet Crew solidly rounds out the first volume, making way for the DJ interpretations on the second LP, and the fact that I haven’t even mentioned the remixes until now should be telling of my general opinion of the pieces. For while these treatments retain the vibrant mood of the originals, they sacrifice the grainy aesthetic that makes Anti NY redeemable, sampling dub and disco beats in a manner that does little justice to the source material. London-based Psychonaut Paul Mogg creates a nice lounge vibe on his version of “Drum Mode,” but I have to wonder if he and I are referencing the same piece of music, so indistinguishable is Gray’s original amidst Mogg’s house beats and crooning organ samples.

Anti NY never really transcends what it truly is, which is a collection of singles, some profound, others very nearly dispensable. It may well be, in the end, the best album that everyone will own but never play. Meanwhile, Soul Jazz Records has plans to release a similar compilation from the British scene in the early 80s, and one has to wonder how many interesting variations could be derived from the limited amount of material this transitional period produced. Soul Jazz has had the grace to release an advanced 12” Human League/A Certain Ratio split, much as Gomma did with the Sexual Harrassment number, which deserves to be fore grounded, rather than buried amidst nostalgic mediocrity.

By Tom Roberts

Read More

View all articles by Tom Roberts

Find out more about Gomma

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.