Golden Calves - "Mod Bacteria" (Money Band / Century Band)
James Jackson Toth was just 18 when he recorded this material, not long out of Purchase College and just discovering the outer fringes of folk, free jazz and noise. Four-tracked in mostly one- and two-minute bursts, these are fragile, fragmentary ideas, not nearly cooked enough to qualify as songs, not wild enough to make the cut as improvisatory noise. A decade later, critics would take Toth to task for releasing every fucking thing that ever came into his head, exhausted and bewildered by the two and three full-lengths a year that spewed forth under various permutations of the name Wooden Wand. Here is where it starts, Toth, barely legal to vote, already spouting reams of unfinished, tossed off, poorly played, fuzzily recorded, and yet intermittently affecting material.
It’s easy enough to make fun of this stuff, Toth banging on the piano in “Pocket Organ Grinder (For Jocy de Oliveira)” like a blind man feeling his way along the keys to the bathroom. Or again in “Panoramic Corporate Lobby Shots, Pts I and II” picking at a banjo with salad tongs, in rough cohesion with slack-skinned tom tom rolls, or possibly a bunch of quarters rattling around on top of a drum. Toth sounds like he’s heard of guitars, had perhaps even seen them played once or twice, but discovered all the other instruments on an archeological dig and had to learn to work them from hieroglyphs. You can’t listen to “Psychic Console II” without your cheeks starting to hurt from the audibly bad brass and reed technique in the nine-minute epic.
And still, there’s something in the songs -- not all the time, but once in a while -- that pulls you up short. Woozy, drone-festering “Seraphim Radar Rallies” has a phosphorescent radiance, an unhealthy, undeniable beauty. And once Toth and his mates are done screwing around (and possibly tripping over the drum kit), “Hollow Earth Worship (The Ouijja Machine)” resolves into a fey, beguiling Syd-into-early-GBV-ish whimsy, soured, in an interesting way, by a wandering detuned keyboard line. “Meet the Airhearts” is maybe the most easily loved of these tracks, the oddity crammed into the lyrics (“‘I watched the pot till it boiled,’ said the tourist to his horse / backstage at the home town concert benefit for stage-dive fanatics”), the music pared to terse and nerve-wracking picking.
Money Band is loosely strung and lightly structured. There are more misses than hits, and it’s hard to imagine there were any discarded outtakes. But it’s an interesting document of unmediated creative experiment, a guy with a pile of instruments he just met the day before and a hive-buzz of ideas going on in his head. You can find little shards of the found poetry, little hints of the ghostly melodies that sparked through later Wooden Wand. It’s not finished. It’s not even very good all the time. But it’s not dull and occasionally pretty striking. Everybody has to start somewhere.