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Glenn Branca Lesson No 1 Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

Long overdue reissue documenting early 80s compositions by minimalist thrash composer...

Peter Marsh 2004

Though left off Brian Eno's genre-defining No Wave compilation, Glenn Branca's minimal art-thrash outfit Theoretical Girls were one of the scene's cornerstones, along with bands like Mars, DNA and Teenage Jesus. No Wave was a typically New York phenomenon; it embraced noise, funk, free jazz and anything else it found lying around and grafted it on to the DIY ethos of punk with barely a glance backwards and a complete disregard for musical convention. It sounded like nothing else on earth.

While stilla member of Theoretical Girls, Branca (along with rival Rhys Chatham) began to work on music that combined classical compositional techniques with the, er...power of rock. Unsurprisingly the results were some way from the rococo intricacies of prog; instead Branca and Chatham constructed an infernal, crushing minimalism from massed electric guitars that owed as much to The Stooges as it did to Lamonte Young.

This reissue brings together a few previously hard to find Branca items from the early 80s. "Lesson No 1 for Electric Guitar" and "Dissonance" date from 1980 and are played by a relatively conventional band line-up.Spidery repeated riffs(reminiscent of King Crimson's early 80s work)lock and unlock,eventually coalescing into anthemic, hammering riffage.It'samazing how polite it all sounds; rendered weedy by an indifferent production.

Less polite is "Bad Smells", originally composed for choreographer Twyla Tharp. Here Branca shows his deep understanding of the sonic possibilities of the electric guitar; there are five of them here (two are played by Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore). Over angular, juddering rhythmic constructions they uncoil celestial drones, metallic clangs and vicious scything distortions into a restless mini-symphony. Branca keeps things on the move; there's more than a hint of John Zorn's attention deficit disorder approach to composition as he juggles angular, Morricone-esque twangs with huge, shuddering crunches and cavernous ambience.

Brilliant stuff, but there's more...rounding off the disc is a video of Branca's Symphony No 5, recorded in 1984. As the piecebuilds from distant drones to what sounds like a roomful of guitars being hurled repeatedly at a garage door, Branca gives an admirably literal meaning to the concept of 'conducting'. Each percussive hit seems intimately connected with his nervous system as he prowls the stage; more Nick Cave than Sir Thomas Beecham. Alan Licht's superb sleevenotes argue that Branca is the first post modern composer; whatever the truth of that assertion, this is a piece of history worthy of attention...

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