The Undertow of the 90s.

Sonic Reducer: The Undertow of the 90s.
For the second edition of Sonic Reducer we continue to mine the undertow of the 90s (with one exception from 2004) for quality releases worth seeking out. Again, they were all originally released on CD, this time around between 1993 and 2004. Most of these acts have other recordings out, several with records every bit as good as the ones fawned over below. Disclaimer: I worked for two of these labels (Tim/Kerr and Schizophonic) with two of these bands (Pigpen and 44 Long) back in the mid 90s. 


Coyle & SharpeOn The Loose (1995, 2 13 61 Records): Coyle & Sharpe, the original prankster duo, ran amazingly surreal routines on innocent passers-by in the streets of San Francisco in the late 1950s, recording them with a tape machine hidden in a briefcase. They talked people (or tried to) into robbing banks, turning themselves into human leeches, herding “foot apples” and invented their own language (“Bulgravian”). These outrageously funny recordings are also snapshots of the times, a more innocent (gullible?) time (despite cold war fears) where strangers could approach strangers on the street with wacky ideas and not get automatically brushed off. For better or worse, it’s hard to imagine them getting the same responses today. 

Duke McVinnieBugs (1992, Action Box): Bugs gets the nod over McVinnie’s several other records because it’s the only one I’ve heard. Channeling an art damaged version of seedy Los Angeles with  great humor, chaos, heartbreak and the ace poetic eye of a intelligent wastrel outsider, McVinnie hangs on the dirty boulevards with Chandler, Ellroy, Bukowski and Waits. Smokey Hormel plays guitar, Exene Cervenka co-wrote the self-explanatory “Drinking About You” and they mix in oboe, ocarina (?), low-fi tweaks and cut-ups with their stream of  bush-whacked jazz, gutter blues and downer folk. The whole beautiful thing was recorded straight to two track and sounds better than decades of digital disasters.

Mylab self-titled (2004, Terminus): super producer/engineer and drummer/percussionist Tucker Martine and super jazzbo keyboard whiz Wayne Horvitz and a whole bunch of their mega-talented pals gang up for a light-hearted, boundary expanding experimental project. Those pals include Bill Frisell, Robin Holcomb, Bobby Previte, Eyvind Kang and Keith Lowe. Google them. They throw just about anything with strings, keys, skins, knobs, reeds or mouthpieces into the mix and sit back and let it cook. This is “jazz” only because there’s not really anything else to call it; you can just call it fun and get right to it.  Horvitz is also up to his neck in…

PigpenMiss Ann (1993, Tim/Kerr): Wayne Horvitz was the fulcrum around which the rest of Pigpen spun. This Seattle combo also featured progressive jazz hot-heads sax-man Briggan Krauss, drummer Mike Stone and bass player extrordinaire Fred Chalenor. They  specialized in hot, funky jazz that was both challenging and accessible. Their debut CD,Miss Ann, has seven Horvitz originals and covers by Eric Dolphy and John Zorn. They also put out a couple more full CDs, and EP and a live CD. Chalenor was also a huge part of…

Boodlers self titled (1995, Cavity Search): experimental guitar heavy-hitter Elliott Sharp leads a trio of brave souls through an effects-tweaked mine-field of twisted fret terrorism and saxophone abuse.  Cut, pasted, tortured, turned inside out and outside in in the mix, the six tracks range from short, furious pulverizations to longer, mind-bending ones that were once described (as I remember it) as sounding “like nuclei circling the head of a pin.” Chalenor and drummer Henry Franzoni more than hold their own with Sharp, everyone playing like a trio of miners working their ways towards the center of the earth, one calamity at time. They released a second terrific album, Counter Fit, in 1997. 

44 Long, Collect Them All (1997, Schizophonic): sometimes something previously done to death is done so well that it simply makes it all sound fresh again. Such is the case with the debut CD by 44 Long, the first of several fine rocking-pop CDs that 44 Long main-man Brian Berg has produced since then. Berg is an almost-hidden treasure and a multi-talent; not only can he seriously play guitar with the best of them and produce a fine record, but he’s got that voice: nasally, piercing and emotive. Naturally these are all beautifully crafted, catchy songs that slide from straight up pop to rock to more country and roots flavors, all with Berg’s distinctive twang in voice and guitar both. Small flourishes in the production (chimes, autoharp, maracas, whistling) can make all the difference, and Collect Them All has just enough to keep it surprising and new. Fans of well-crafted roots pop and tasteful but still dangerous electric guitar look no further. 

Hashisheen: The End of Law (1998, Sub Rosa import); words by Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey), music compiled by Bill Laswell. A living breathing cut-up spoken word ambient world dub other dimensional trip into the fantastical world of Hasan i Sabbah. Sabbah was the 11th century Persian mystic, heretic, revolutionary, hashish mind-control originator and founder of the “Cult of the Assassins,” Marco Polo’s “old man of the mountain,” sending out his devotees to wreck havoc on Islam and Christianity alike from his mountain top fortress, Alamut, in central Persia. That’s Iran, ya’ll, a country that had an incredibly rich cultural history when European’s were living in caves and hitting each other over the heads with sticks. Steeped in myth, legend and psychological sorcery, the story of The Assassins is related by William S. Burroughs, Patti Smith, Genesis P. Orridge, Ira Cohen, a frankly out-of-place sounding Iggy Pop and many others. Let Hasan i Sabbah have the final word: “Nothing is true –  everything is permitted.” 

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