Over the last few years a great deal of attention has been paid to the NYC No Wave scene of the late 70s. There have been books, movies, and quite a few reissues/issues of classic and essential music. Acute Records is proud to have been involved with some essential reissues from the period, such as our first CD, containing Jeffrey Lohn’s contributions to the Theoretical Girls.
Jeffrey Lohn is an artist, composer, writer, teacher and plumber. During the genesis of the No Wave scene, he hosted late night concerts in his Soho loft, where artists like Tim Wright, Laurie Anderson and Nina Canal would gather and perform music. The No Wave scene was filled with artists, non-musicians, improvisers and composers who were being inspired by the energy and aesthetics, if not the sound, of the cresting CB’s punk scene. The raw and aggressive punk of bands like the Dead Boys were of particular interest to Lohn, who wanted to combine his “serious” compositions with the raw energy of punk rock. Finding likeminded people such as Glenn Branca (gtr, bass, vocals), Margaret Dewyss (organ, bass, vocals), and Wharton Tiers (drums, vocals), he formed the Theoretical Girls.
At the time there, were no bands on the New York City scene that better combined the accessibility of Punk, New Wave and plain old Rock and Roll with such avant-garde takes on classical composition and sheer noise. This combination made the Theoretical Girls both a cutting edge assault of noise-rock and an incredibly catchy rock band. Yet external pressures and internal politics thwarted the official public release of their music during their existence, other then a sole self-release 7″ the classic US Millie/You Got Me, featuring one song each composed by Lohn and Branca.
Acute’s release of Theoretical record collects over an hour of Jeffrey Lohn’s material. Now, for the first time in decades, his songs and sound will get the credit they are due.
Theoretical Girls-Lovin in the Red
Theoretical Girls-Nothing at All
Theoretical Girls-US Millie
Theoretical Girls-Europe Man
Live at the Kitchen, April 4th. Margaret on vocals.
Theoretical Girls-Chicita Bonita
Live at the X Magazine Benefit, Saturday March 11th, 1978, 66 e. 4th st. Also appearing were Contortions, Police Band, Erasers, DNA and Terminal.
Theoretical Girls-Mom and Dad
Live at the X Magazine Benefit.
Theoretical Girls-Mom and Dad
1 Theoretical Girls
Lohn on Guitar & vocal; Branca on Guitar; Dewys on keyboards, Tiers on drums.
X Magazine Benefit, Sat March 11th, 1978, 66 e 4th st
w/Contortions, Police Band, Erasers, DNA, Terminal
2 Computer Dating
Lohn on guitar & vocal, Branca on Guitar, Dewys on keyboards, Tiers on drums 8 track recording session, 1978, same session as US Millie
“The studio was in the west village, on barrow st. I don’t remember the name.” -Jeffrey
3 Contrary Motion
Lohn on RMI elec keyboard, Branca on Guitar, Dewys on farfisa organ, Tiers on drums
“Probably from last live performance, at Max’s Kansas City.” -Jeffrey
4 Europe Man
Lohn on guitar & vocal, Branca on Guitar, Dewys on keyboards, Tiers on drums
Live at Phil Niblock’s Intermedia
5 Lovin in the Red
Lohn on Farfisa Organ & vocal, Branca on Guitar, Dewys on RMI electric piano, Tiers on drums
1978 4track session with You Got Me, Theoretical Girls
6 Mom & Dad
Lohn on Guitar & vocal; Branca on Guitar, Dewys on Keyboards, Tiers on drums
Live at Phil Niblock’s Intermedia
7 U.S. Millie
Lohn on RMI elec. piano & vocal, Branca on Bass guitar, Dewys on hand percussion, Tiers on drums
8 track recording session, 1978, same session as Computer Dating
8 No More Sex
Lohn on guitar & vocal, Branca on Guitar, Dewys on Keyboards, Tiers on drums
June 1978 4trk session.
9 Keyboard Etude
Lohn on Farfisa organ , Mikey on percussion
Lohn on guitar & vocal, Branca on Bass guitar, Dewys on keyboards, Tiers on drums
June 1978 4trk session
11 Electronic Angie (short version)
Lohn on beaten Bass guitar & vocal, Branca on guitar, Dewys on keyboards, Tiers on drums
12 Chicita Bonita
Lohn on guitar & vocal, Branca on Bass, Dewys on keyboards, Tiers on drums
Lohn on RMI elec piano, Branca on guitar, dewys on bass guitar, Tiers on drums
14 Parlez-vous Francais
Lohn on Bass guitar & vocal, Branca on guitar, dewys on keyboards, Tiers on drums
Vitrine in France.
“This was an Art Gallery run by the Polish curator Anka Ptaskowska and the Parisian Lawyer/collector, Michel Meyer. We were invited to perform there. I knew Anka Ptaskowsaka via some of my art stuff. the year i think was 1979. The space was on the rue Quincampoix.” -Jeffrey
15 Theoretical Girls
Lohn on guitar & vocal, Branca on guitar, dewys on keyboards, Tiers on drums
1978 4track session with You Got Me and Lovin in the Red
16 Chicita Bonita
Lohn on guitar & vocal, Branca on Bass guitar, Dewys on keyboards, Tiers on drums
17 Lovin in the Red
Lohn on farfisa organ & vocal, Branca on guitar, dewys on RMI, Tiers on drums
18 Computer Dating
Lohn on RMI elec keyboard, Branca on Guitar, Dewys on farfisa organ, Tiers on drums
June 1978 4trk session
19 Electronic Angie (Long Version)
Lohn on beaten Bass guitar & vocal, Branca on guitar, Dewys on keyboards, Tiers on drums
click to collapse
The New York Times Friday April 28, 1978
This coming week has turned into an informal festival of underground-punk-new wave rock, what with Mr. Dury at the Bottom Line, Blondie and Robert Gordon at the Palladium Thursday, the Elvis Costello-Nick Low-Mink DeVille bill at the Palladium on May 6 and a series of SoHo avant-garde bands at the Artists Space, 105 Hudson Street, Tuesday through May 5 (of which the double bill Wednesday of the Gynecologists and the Theoretical Girls-that’s two different groups-looks particularly promising).
The Soho Weekly News June 15, 1978
The week-long festival of New Wave Bands at Artists Space featured the type of groups which have long given both punk and art-rock a bad name. Tuesday night got off to a crawling start, as people milled about, not quite knowing what to do with themselves as the Communists and Terminal opened. The Communists were about the most conventional groups of the week, but this didn’t take away from their charm. A band in three-chord mold of X-Ray Spex or the Rezillos, the Communists and their spike-heeled femme fatale lead singer tore through a set of scorchers to a yanwing handful. Terminal featured a woman synthesizer player whose makeshift machine was set up on a roll-away coffee table, propped up by telephone books. Clever, but empty.
Wednesday night things picked up as I caught a set of the Theoretical Girls, veterans of Kitchen performances-with a following, no less. A cross between the Talking Heads and Mars, the T. Girls seemed a little to earnestly neurotic for my tastes, though they were not without some arcane appeal. One artist listener complained to his partner that he couldn’t understand the lyrics. His friend patiently explained it didn’t matter. I missed the Gynecologists.
New Musical Express March 10th, 1979
Theoretical Girls: U.S. MIllie (Theoretical Records)
Which goes ping! and punches in all the places you like not to be expecting scratchy attack, and art doesn’t come into it. Theoretical Girls are one of the newer New York groups but-hold on!-sound remarkably less pretentious then you might expect, they were scheduled for that recent ‘No New York’ compilation, but finally rejected-which will probably figure out well for them in the end.
I know, as yet, nothing at all about them-theoretical band, have you any girls?-but rest assured, I have spies on your behalf moving this very instant further and further in the Zone….’U.S. Millie’ is absurdly ‘commercial’. An irresistible ‘military’ drum figure rolls through, stooping and stuttering, a tinny keyboard going blittyblittyblatblat, and a cheesy cartoon-character vocal, all conjuring up one of those black and white ‘B’ movies of the ’50s called something like ‘Archie Green Goest to Harvard'(where he finds true camaradie, the dog of his dreams and crew sox.)
It sniggles outside the mould of old structures and scrapes clear a clean, cutting, crackling, New Fun slice of nervous noise-to be heard when eating cheesecake, accompanied by cheerleaders and followed by canned laughter. Rhymes ‘Scientology’ with ‘East Germany’-why isn’t specified. Betty Boop rock.
Unicorn Times June 1979
Howard S. M. Wuelfing
On a more positive and musical note…Theoretical Girls have released an awfully fine slice of non-rock, non-pop rock in “U.S. Millie” c/w “You Got Me” (Theoretical, A) If you can stomach the thought of Philip Glass collaborating with Wild Man Fisher you’ll probably fall in love with this. A must-have for the esotericists.(Available from Theoretical Records. 17 Thompson Street, N.Y.C. 10013 for $1.25)
Can a building super, an itinerant lead guitarist, a plumber and his girlfriend make it in the music business in New York? Probably, with a name like Theoretical Girls. Even when they only play three or four gigs a year. Making it, however, is secondary to the groups first priority-making new music.
A hard-driving drum behind two steel guitars and a keyboard playing Beethoven-inspired compositions in triple time carries home the Theoretical Girls’ lyrical bullets like a pre-recorded message(programmed to self-destruct, naturally_ that you were old when you walked in and are about to be born again.
No longer content to play classical new wave nightclubs like CBGB’s, the Girls left New York last July for a European tour that carred them over the threshold of then Punk Paris, where they played to the progenitors of Aesthetic Nihilism. Their arual assault on the French was characterized by an appealing change in musical direction that distinguishes the so-called art bands of lower Manhattan’s galleries and performance spaces from the old new wave singularity that rocks the Bowery. In Paris they were asked to perform at the punkque bastion Gibus, which they report was a “low life mafioso club with a goon on stage and six at the door.” They declined the invitation.
Theoreatical Girls has Glenn Branca on rhythm guitar and vocals. Margaret Dewys on keyboard and bass and Wharton Tiers on percussion. Jeffrey Lohn does vocals, plays guitar and keyboard.
In September, 78, the Girls released a single with “U.S. Millie” on one side and “You Got Me” on the other; it sold well-the first five thousand went quickly into a second printing.
“There is a new sound downtown,” explained guitarist Glenn Branca. “It’s being worked out by about a dozen bands. In fact, there’s already a second(even a third?) generation of art bands in the works.”
“We’re constantly changing,” says Jeffrey Lohn, who wrote the music and lyrics on the song “Theoretical Girls.” “We’re not being imitated by the second wave. They can’t get the vocals, for one thing, because we write our lyrics and sing them to the music.”
Trained in classical piano, Lohn spends much of his time writing new classical music and experimental compositions such as one performed in February at the Kitchen. That recital featured six strings(three violins, a bass, a cello and a viola), eight female vocalists and drums, and was conducted by Julius Eastman. Lohn mixed. While he and Branca supply most of the music and lyrics for the Girls, there is the usual give and take from Dewys and Tiers that comes from a solid working relationship and that makes for a coherent sound.
After the Kitchen event, Branca went to Europe to play an art performance in Brussels with one of the featured instumentalists in a group called Static. Upon his return to the States, the Girls played an hour-long set at Hurrah! that included a variety of sounds from their single record to a choral arrangement for three women of different heights, to an instrumental that left ears deafened to tonal changes and the time of night. Seismic and seminal in the extreme.
Careless Talk Costs Lives Nov/Dec, 2002
The greatest no wave song you haven’t heard goes like this: “1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4…” and so on, the four words shouted repeatedly over jagged guitars – some mighty fucking orchestral hum resonating through speakers – until the song’s end.
It’s called “theoretical girls (live version)” and was taped in 1978, or thereabouts. Until this year, and this 19-track compilation, the recording had never seen the light of day; indeed, during their brief career between 1978-1981, NYC’s theoretical girls only ever released one single, the electric piano-led, jerkily frantic, “US millie” (like DNA and early Devo, only more fetishistic). Yet, on this evidence, theoretical girls were a brilliant, innovative art-punk band – the equals of better-known peers such as Lydia lunch’s teenage jesus and the jerks, james chance and the contortions and ESG. Repetition is used as an asset (the title track, “computer dating”, “contrary motion”). Raw synergy is matched to carefully layered constructions of guitar and vocal (“no more sex”. Lyrics are very of their time – naˆØve, impassioned rants against preordained sex (“computer dating”), the military (“NATO”), and attempted street sass (“chicita bonita”).
Theoretical girls played literate, nervy rock music: indeed, the music’s full-on assault seems almost at odds with the intricated jazz rhythms threading surreptitiously through songs like “polytonal”. In places, you can even hear traces of early sonic youth…hardly surprising when you consider the connection.
Theoretical girls were the brainchild of Jeffrey lohn – writer, plumber and host of all-night new york loft parties in the late seventies where new musicians and improvisers would play. A classically trained composer, Jeffrey was moved by the brutal minimalism of punk bands like ramones and dead boys to form a group himself, alongside future engineer Wharton tiers (drums, vocals) artist Margaret dewyss (organ, bass, vocals) and glenn branca (guitar, bass, vocals). Lee ranaldo and Thurston moore both served their musical apprenticeship in branca’s legendary 20-strong guitar orchestra. Tiers recorded many sonic youth records at his fun city studios. Dewyss has recently resurfaced as a recording artist on (youth drummer) steve shelley’s smells like label.
Ignore the historical context, though. This is a great record, albeit one with a slighty dated, very recognizable, early eighties sound – one recently resurrected by the new breed of new york bands like liars, the strokes, and yeah yeah yeahs. Stops and starts and stutters and staccato bursts of pure noise help feed the frenzy: guitars and keyboards are shaken then battered into submission. Theoretical girls were really lohn’s creation, though: he wrote all music, lyrics and instrumental parts on this album. (irritatingly, the only B-side ever recorded, branca’s “you got me”, isn’t included.)
Whatever. Anyone excited by the rediscovery of late seventies innovators such as Kleenex (last years’s double compilation of kill rock stars), this heat and cabaret Voltaire, should check out theoretical girls. At the very least, they have a great fucking name.
Jeffrey Lohn talks to Everett True
“the output of theoretical girls was roughly 25 percent songs – 75 percent by me, 25 percent by glenn branca. This cd was meant to be released about 15 years ago – the master had been made and was ready to go – when glenn suddenly refused permission for his songs. So rather than release it with just my material on, I cancelled the project. The reason it’s come out now, is that a few years later glenn released his songs anyway, and when current producer dan selzer went looking for ” US millie” on that release and couldn’t find it, he was so disappointed he started to look into the whole matter.
“it was for real, that’s for sure. It was very honest, and it comes from a very strong and loving connection to many kinds of music. At the time theoretical girls started, I’d left the music world and was doing conceptual art in new york , excited by ideas in arts and philosophy. Then I ran into a punk rock concert at CBGB’s. it was the first rock show of my life. As a teenager I loved afro-cuban music, jazz, swing and classical music from bach, Beethoven, and Schumann to the present day. I only liked very early rock stuff – so lo and behold I walk into a dead boys concert, and I loved it on so many different levels. That’s where I got the idea to start mixing classical ideas and techniques with punk rock.
“‘US Mille’ was definitely a result of that mixture: punk rock and Stravinsky come together without pretension. I hate any idea of pretence.”
Time Out New York November 28, 2002
During its 1977-79 lifespan, the NYC no-wave quartet theoretical girls issued only one self-released single, 1978’s “US Millie”/”You Got Me.” Written by future guitar-ensemble composer glenn branca, “you got me” foreshadows the brooding note clusters and tumbling percussion that would distinguish both his subsequent symphonies and such downtown ’Äò80s noise rockers as sonic youth, swans and live skull. The quirky A side, devised by the band’s more prolific, classically trained frontman Jeffrey lohn, seems lighthearted by comparison; propelled by a whimsical goose-step beat, it fuses obliquely satirical lyrics with gleaming minimalism and an electric-piano glissando that could herald the evening news.
Winsome and humorous, the almost-catchy “U.S. Millie” is a major aberration when compared to the rest of the theoretical record, a much-needed retrospective that compiles Lohn’s crucial contributions to the group. Many of the album’s 19 pieces sound even more revolutionary, influential and full realized that branca’s T-Girls work (collected on his atavistic cd songs ’Äò77-’79). The sustained, resonant crescendos and rolling tom-toms of “computer dating” and “contrary motion” presciently juxtapose consonant whirrs against steely, discordant shudders. But the wide-ranging disc also unearths a heap of memorably anxious art pop, id-fuled tantrums, and wound-up, left-field punk that’s accessible enough to rewire the mind of the average velvets, pere ubu or talking heads 77 fan.
The new Acute label deserves substantial credit for finally publicizing lohn’s achievements (he went on to compose scores for dance shows, then focused on a career in the visual arts). Theoretical Girls, which also included producer-to-be Wharton tiers on drums and avant-garde luminary Margaret deWyss on keyboards and bass, warrant a far more illustrious fate than being remembered as a footnote in branca’s career. Compared to many of their better-documented contemporaries, they reportedly packed the era’s underground venues, this cd makes it easy to see why.
Spin December 2002
New york no-wavers who inspired sonic youth, pavement, and countless other indie ax wielders. Long on arch vocals and minimalist guitar chaos and – as history lessons go – hella fun.
San Francisco Weekly November 6, 2002
With the success of the Strokes, Interpol, and other New York rock groups, a new generation of listeners is discovering such seminal NYC bands as Television and Suicide. But the downtown revival has also spawned an upsurge of interest in lesser-known acts from across the no wave and post-punk spectrum, acts like the Theoretical Girls. It’s hard to say precisely how influential the Girls were, given that the band only released one record in its career, a two-song 7-inch that came out in 1978 and immediately disappeared from view. But the individual members certainly made an impact. While leader Jeffrey Lohn went on to be known mainly in the realms of dance and visual art, during the late ’70s he hosted all-night parties where influential musicians and artists performed. Meanwhile, drummer Wharton Tiers would go on to produce some of the most important rock artists of the ’80s and ’90s, including Dinosaur Jr. and Unrest; and guitarist Glenn Branca proceeded to compose mammoth symphonies for electric guitar, influencing the polyphonic strategies of Sonic Youth, Swans, and CREMASTER composer Jonathan Bepler.
The 19 cuts on Theoretical Girls, culled from live and studio sessions between 1978 and 1981, reveal the swirl and drone that would define the next two decades of indie rock. The very first song, “Theoretical Girls,” kicks off in a blur of punkish vigor and irony: Pummeling guitars and drums churn as Lohn repeatedly yells out, “One, two, three, four!,” counting down to a song that never really starts. There’s a seismic restlessness to the repetition, and Branca’s guitar and Margaret De Wys’ keyboard gradually bend the song’s single chord to its breaking point. “Lovin in the Red” hints at the approach of bands like Sonic Youth and Mission of Burma even more explicitly, exploring cacophonic maelstroms of sound. At times, the album makes for an almost uncanny listening experience, its many links and references moving backward as well as forward. There are echoes of Jello Biafra’s warble in Lohn’s quavering vocals and dadaist lyrics, as well as the Velvet Underground’s cool detachment in every ringing power chord. And the stomping garage rock of the Monks, a crew of American servicemen stationed in Germany in the ’60s, informs the crude, banging “Europe Man.”
Recent reissues of early material from Branca, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, and others have filled in part of New York ‘s long-forgotten — or just plain ignored — ’70s musical legacy. But as Theoretical Girls makes clear, the story is woefully incomplete without factoring these boys (and girl) into the equation.
Xlr8r November 2002
In the late 70s, performers like suicide, DNA, and Lydia lunch went off like a pipe bomb in the artists’ lofts and dive bars of new york’s lower east side, showering crowds with fractured classical minimalism, improvisational noise and sneering, searing punk. Among the no wave were the theoretical girls, which featured guitar-symphony composer glenn branca and drummer/engineer Wharton tiers (future mentor and producer, respectively, for Sonic Youth). Theoretical record sets out to set the record straight, with previously unreleased live/rehearsal reels focusing on co-founder Jeffrey lohn. Picking up on the staccato see-saw of the Velvet Underground, then moving towards Philip glass and steve reich, theoretical girls used guitar as pummeling percussion. But lohn’s compositions seemed at times more open to bucking the strictest structures for a catchier, though still blistering, deconstructive assault on pop. As companion to branca’s songs ’77-’79, this one’s an archival essential.
The Big Takeover #51
After 24 years in relative obscurity, NYC no-wave group theoretical girls is finally getting their due. Having released only one song during their short, four-year existence (“U.S. Millie” from ROIR’s the great new york singles scene), Jeff Lohn’s super group exemplified, intellectualized, and deteriorated the existing precepts of music as art. Alongside mainstays DNA, Mars , Lydia Lunch, James Chance, and a tapestry of other like-minded artists, core members Margaret Dewyss, Wharton Tiers, Glenn Branca and Lohn, ambitiously balanced instantly accessible pop songs with the rhythm-heavy tactics of no wave. The result was a distinct choreography of catharsis and style, range and passion, serendipity, and deliberation all filtered through the burgeoning punk rock gristmill. Arrangements such as “computer dating”, “contrary motion”, and “keyboard etude” sound strikingly contemporary. Theoretical record offers a great insight into the obscure and oft-misunderstood nyc no-wave movement of the late 70’s.
Sunday Times London November 3, 2002
THE NEW YORK no-wave movement of the late 1970s encouraged a cross-pollination between rock and jazz that changed everything. Today, Sonic Youth are its most famous adherents. Glenn Branca, whose massed choirs of electric guitars deafened a generation, was an early influence on the band, and features alongside Margaret De Wys and Wharton Tiers in Jeffrey Lohn’s Theoretical Girls, the musical equivalent of those conceptual artists who can’t actually paint. The quartet’s defiantly nonadept nonrock appears here on CD for the first time, deploying a determinedly limited palette of piston rhythms, droning guitars and scattershot sounds. US Millie is an uncharacteristic moment of clarity, suggesting the egghead pop of Talking Heads, while Nato conceals the blueprints of 20 years of alt-rock in its single-chord splurge.
Kerrang! November 2002
“Their influence is everywhere. You can hear it in the white-noise wipe-out of Sonic Youth, the raw treatment of Jack White’s precious blues and The Strokes’ rhythmic tension and release. Over the NYC band’s three-year career, Theoretical Girls welded the remnants of new wave and early punk with free jazz, classical piano and rock ‘n’ roll, unbeknownst to the mainstream.
This razor sharp record kicks off as Jeffrey Lohn and assorted band members take turns to scream ‘1,2,3,4’ over breakneck-speed guitars; meanwhile the military-style drumming, keyboard syncopation and stream-of-consciousness vocals of ‘US Millie’ are as fresh as the first day they were spat out in ’78. Ultimately too avant-garde for fame or melody, Theoretical Girls cut-and-paste punk is a thrilling history lesson for fans of tatty-sneakered idols.
The Wire November 2002
Glenn branca is the best known member of this new york no wave quartet. On this compilation, put together from archive tapes supplied by classically trained singer, guitarist and keyboardist Jeffrey Lohn, you might not be surprised to learn Lohn is recast here as the Theoretical Girls’ creative force, with the credits listing him as sole writer, composer and arranger. Branca and lohn aside, the line-up was completed by drummer Wharton tiers and keyboardist Margaret dewyss. Due to record company indifference and internal squabbles, these tracks lain dormant for 20 years. the 14 “originals” are fleshed out by five alternate versions. The sound quality is fairly ragged, but its tinny crackle is good for capturing the group’s intensity.
This historically fascinating collection opens with the group’s self-titled anthem, a sustained build-up of pre-ejaculatory tension that somehow manages to evoke both the ramones and Philip glass. The great talent of theoretical girls is their ability to maintain a whiplash pace, with further momentum supplied by their chanting, shouted vocals and systems-pulse organ jangles. Obviously, there’s terry riley and john cale in here, while a sideways glance will catch DNA and the contortions, particularly on the intermittent slabs of blizzard noise during “contrary motion”. Lohn’s bullish, one-note organ dominates “lovin’ in the red”, coupled with branca’s twanging guitar. ” US Millie” is the odd one out, hopping with a circus-military flamboyance, ringing with fairground announcer vocals. This was the group’s only single, first released in 1978.
It’s amusing to hear such aggressively advanced music topped by primitivist, guttural shouts – at their most basic when lohn barks “no more sex” over and over on “no more sex”, or with the overwrought screaming of “chicita bonita”, “polytonal” sounds like it’s constantly on the verge of breaking up, the players gradually becoming entangled as they head nowhere. The studio take of the title tune is much smoother, and the second version of “lovin in the red” has a savagely choppy edge, suspending its riff on a high wire. This album certainly has its moments, but it’s as a historical curiosity that it will attract the most interest, particularly since sonic youth was only a busted A string away.
The Wire November 2002
part of the “no wave primer”
Guitarist glenn branca also moved to nyc in the mid 70s to pursue theatre, but was attracted by the CBGB’s/Max’s Kansas City punk scene too. He joined forces with keyboardist/guitarist Jeffrey Lohn initially to work on theatre projects, and then to form theoretical girls in 1977. completed by future producer and sonic youth engineer Wharton Tiers on drums and Margaret dewyss on keyboards, they only released one single during their existence, “US Millie”/”You got me”, on their own Theoretical label in 1978, but some of Branca’s songs are collected on the Songs 77-79 cd, while Lohn’s were released as late as 2002 on the acute cd. The Lohn material is surprisingly straightforward, but powerful: throbbing one of two-chord workouts that sound like an art-damaged modern lovers with a heavier attack. “US Mille” is an anomaly, with its terry riley/Philip Glass-like keyboard part and drum corps snare; the bristling clusters of “computer dating” indicate the group’s no wave reputation more directly. Even Branca’s 1977 “TV Song” is powerchord post-ramones rock, but “You Got Me”, “You” and “Glazened Idols”, all recorded live in 1978, feature dissonant chord patterns, loop-like repetition, fractured time signatures and energetic bursts of clanging guitar. The group’s Achilles heel was vocals. Neither Lohn nor Branca’s are effective, and Branca’s spoken word excursions are conspicuously arty. In 1978 Branca formed a trio, The Static, with Barbara Ess and Christine Hahn (who went on to join West Berlin’s Malaria!) to showcase more of his own songs. Their lone theoretical single, “my relationship”/”don’t let me stop you”, also appears on Songs 77-79 and is a perfect distillation of loud primitive rock overlaid with cruelly dissonant guitars.
Uncut October 2002
Brilliant retrospective of the no-wave quartet that featured composer Jeffrey Lohn and guitarist Glenn Branca. The distorted vocals and muscular basslines emphasize their love of pure noise whilst the nineteen tracks range from glorious punk-funk to avant-garde rock.
Dusted Magazine November 13th, 2002
No Wave from Then…Now
The Theoretical Girls were previously known mainly as a footnote in rock history. A band better remembered for launching Glenn Branca’s career than for a scant musical output of one single in 1978, the Theoretical Girls shared with many other bands in the No Wave scene a tendency to dissolve quickly, leaving as little recorded legacy as is humanly possible from a working band (another good example being Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, whose entire works wouldn’t fill an entire LP). With the release of a new CD comprised of previously unreleased Theoretical Girls recordings, along with that one single, “US Millie”, the band will probably remain a footnote, though a better documented one.
Although Branca is the best known member of the group (having recently raked in mad cash and blown the tops off a nation’s boomboxes with his contribution to the soundtrack of the Richard Gere blockbuster “The Mothman Prophecies”), it’s evident that guitarist Jeffrey Lohn, who helped to spur the current reissue, was its heart (the liner notes take pains to note that “All music, lyrics and instrumental parts” were written by Lohn). Also members were keyboardist Margaret Dewys (who continues to be active in avant-garde art) and on skins Wharton Tiers, who is currently a producer and long-time Sonic Youth associate. The music they created is more “listenable” than that of many of their contemporaries; their music stays closer to the pop/rock underpinnings of original punk and new wave than the work of No Wave artists, who made a conscious effort to start at the point were those genres left off, taking from them their volume and attitude and refining it to produce music requiring an effort from the listener to penetrate an often structureless aural assault. The Theoretical Girls theme song, the aptly titled “Theoretical Girls” (or it’s possibly a joke of a theme song, considering that most of it is just a count-off dragged out to two minutes) recalls the fast chug of the Ramones; “US Millie”, their single, barely even features guitar, and is dominated by martial drums and pulsing keyboards. Some of the songs, such as “No More Sex” and “Mom and Dad” could be taken for products of the artier strand of original New York punk. That said, this still is not radio friendly music; the most recognizably No Wave moment is the room-clearing instrumental “Contrary Motion”, where the band does its best to mimic the sound of an electrical drill being driven into your skull. And “Keyboard Etude”, although lasting only a minute, is in the same spirit, with a strikingly atonal keyboard solo from Lohns.
Despite these ear-bruising moments, the Theoretical Girls are ultimately most memorable for their loopy sense of humor and the playfulness of their music (not that other No Wave bands lacked a sense of humor; sometimes it’s hard to detect it in music that often sounds as if it’s trying to harm you). “US Millie” might be a dig on American sexual mores, but it’s difficult to be sure exactly what Lohns is about when the absurd lyrics veer into pure dada, concluding with a list of items that offers “Jews for Jesus” and “Danon Yogurt” as a counterpoint to “Ms. Magazine” and “Scientology.” “Computer Dating” addresses its subject mainly by recreating a dating questionnaire in musical form. It doesn’t hurt their cause that the band was a gifted musical unit; although the playing is often primitive and amateurish, it’s also uniformly precise and effective. If they had released an album, the Theoretical Girls would probably have been one of the more fondly remembered No Wave bands; this posthumous compilation establishes their reputation, but two decades after it was truly deserved.
Logo Magazine November 4, 2002
‘The most influential group you’ve never heard’ trumpets the press release for this first sighting of recordings from New York No-Wavers Theoretical Girls. It’s undeniably true. The line-up (guitarist Glenn Branca, classically trained composer (and plumber) Jeffrey Lohn, Margaret DeWyss and Wharton Tiers) won’t mean much to the man on the street, but to the nascent Sonic Youth they were Gods. For the uninitiated, the No-Wave movement arose from the NY underground after the first wave from CBGB’s went international, seeking to reclaim the energy and danger that had marked the Ramones. Due to external politics and internal pressures’ no officially recorded works of Theoretical Girls has ever emerged until now, yet here are the seeds of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Junior; draw a line from The Velvet Underground and the work of John Cale through to today’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Liars and you’ll find Theoretical Girls sitting squarely in the middle of it. If the current NY revival is floating your boat you’re advised to seek this out forthwith — it’s the real thing.
Other Music October 16th
Theoretical Girls has always been a name that is mentioned when talking about no wave, and yes, Glenn Branca was a member of the band, but until now there was very little recorded evidence to merit anything more than a mere footnote. Acute Records, with the help of T-Girls (primary songwriter and vocalist) Jeffrey Lohn, have assembled a collection of recordings that could possibly be the evidence needed to prove that they were the most influential band of the era. Providing the best possible link between the no wave movement and what would become the ’80s downtown music scene, it takes only one listen to recognize that Sonic Youth have not stepped far from what Lohn had already created with the T-Girls. Like many people my age, those SST recordings by Sonic Youth were a launching point into a larger world that for me quickly included Lydia Lunch, DNA, and Mars. This CD just makes it that much harder to comprehend how Theoretical Girls were not asked to be on the “No New York” compilation. These songs are every bit as essential toward understanding what the no wave movement was, and even though this release only offers the Jeffrey Lohn written material (Glenn Branca “Songs 77-79″ on Atavistic offers 5 Branca penned T-Girls tracks), it does serve as the most complete and in my opinion, best collection of their recorded work.
Tandem News October 12th, 2002
Thanks to enterprising music fan Dan Selzer we have another previously unheard piece of New York rock history. Inspired by the energy of punk, New York artists picked up instruments in the late ’70’s with a variety of results. Laurie Anderson and the graduates of the CBGBs scene are quite well known but the roots of the sound made famous by Sonic Youth in the mid ’80’s are still being discovered. The Theoretical Girls were a group in 1977/78 which featured drummer Wharton Tiers (later a Grammy award-winning producer for Sonic Youth and others) and Glenn Branca, whose pieces for massed guitars are credited as the New York noise-rock blueprint. Now with the release of this collection of demos and raw live recordings the history book will have to be rewritten to include the name of Jeffrey Lohn, who wrote the music and lyrics for Theoretical Girls, including the A-side of their only release, U.S. Millie, which was featured on ROIR’s The Great New York Singles Scene collection. Lohn was a classically trained composer, inspired by punk and minimalism to write this pop ditty that bops to a Terry Riley-style Farfisa organ pattern. Lohn’s other compositions here owe more to the garage rock of the Velvet Underground and the angular art-punk of Wire. And when teamed with Branca on tense dual guitars Lohn co-created the precursor to Branca’s Lesson #1 and the youthful sonics to follow.
Theoretical Girls (Jeffrey Lohn, Wharton Tiers, Margaret Dewys & Glenn Branca), fixtures of the New York no-wave scene, only released one single back in the day. The tunes Branca penned can be found on his 1977-79 Static/Theoretical Girls compilation; Jeffery Lohn’s contributions are collected on this new 19 track disc. Lohn wanted to combine punk rock with avant-garde classical composition. Less sharply jagged and jarring than Branca’s compositions, these very lo-fi recordings have a definite element of straight-up, Dead Boys-style, dirty, stripped-down RAWK. Some tracks bring on the full on noise destruction, while others display a punk anthemic-ness almost on the level of Wire’s first album. One of the most striking things on first hearing this disc is the blatancy with which Theoretical Girls provided a blueprint for Sonic Youth, especially in the spoken vs. sung vocal interplay; Lohn’s voice is even a bit reminiscent of Thurston Moore’s (or is it the other way around?). The degree of classical rigor isn’t exactly clear, if it’s even really there at all, but what does shine through is some immensely influential, kick-ass New York noise rock. Keyword: Raw.
The New York Times December 6, 2002
The current revival of post-punk music and its many offshoots has brought scores of quality reissues of albums that music fans thought they’d never hear on CD. It has also prompted many musicians to dig through their old tapes for unreleased material. Among them is Jeffrey Lohn, one-quarter of the noisy New York no-wave band the Theoretical Girls, which included the minimalist composer Glenn Branca, the keyboardist and composer Margaret DeWys, and the producer Wharton Tiers. With high concepts and low fidelity, they merged the freedom offered by punk with the strictures of modern classical to explore harmonics and rhythm with noisy, jagged, clustered guitar assaults. The band released only one single, in 1978, so this album may be of more historical than musical interest to many.
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