GLENN BRANCA – THE ASCENSION

— Dan on March 2, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Glenn Branca
The Ascension

Out of Print (from us)

Glenn Branca’s The Ascension was one of those rare records that managed to change things. Maybe not right away, but as time has passed, it’s importance and influence has become more and more clear. Branca’s idea was to marry the repetition and process of minimalism with the energy and aesthetic of rock music. The Ascension’s predecessor Lesson No. 1 showed this in a simple and refined manor but on the Ascension, everything was turned up to 11.

Glenn had put together a small group to tour in 1980. The “Ascension band” included Ned Sublette, David Rosenbloom, Branca and future Sonic Youth-er Lee Ranaldo on guitar, Jeffrey Glenn on bass and Stephan Wischerth on drums. By the time they recorded in 1981 they must have been a hell of a band. Recorded and mixed at the Power Station and mastered by Howie Weinberg, the Ascension is a truly fantastic sounding record, and is one of the benchmarks for total guitar awesome-ness. Chiming, ringing, chugging guitar bliss. In his liner notes to Acute’s CD reissue, Ranaldo complains however that the true sound of the Ascension could only be heard in a live room, where all the tonalities could crash against each other in the open air. We’ll have to take his word for it and settle for the record they released though, something nobody’s complained about yet! The Ascension came out in 1981 on the seminal label 99, where it was greeted with wide critical acclaim.

While looking at all the press that followed it’s release, one cannot avoid the debate, is The Ascension a rock band performing classical pieces, or an experimental ensemble performing rock music? Glenn’s prior work in The Static and the Theoretical Girls represented some of the most aggressively avant-rock sounds of the New Wave era, while his work in the two decades since has taken on a decidedly “classical” approach. However, for a brief moment, Branca and his band were able to transcend such classifications as High Art vs. Pop Culture, Classical Music vs. Rock and Roll, and release a record that, amongst all the debate, at least had all the critics agreeing on one thing: The Ascension is truly awesome. The Ascension features 5 compositions, none a moment too long or too short , none too leftfield to be inaccessible, none so mainstream to be boring. Just 40 minutes of sheer guitar bliss.

Acute’s release of The Ascension marked its domestic debut on CD, and to celebrate, extras were added. This version is completely remastered by Chicago neo-no wave legend Weasel Walter of The Flying Luttenbachers and features a short but intense video clip of Glenn performing live in Soho from 1978. Lee Ranaldo has also supplied us with liner notes that give a fascinating insight not only into his work with Branca, but into the overall social and artistic atmosphere of downtown New York City in the early 80s. Additional artwork by Robert Longo (who designed the original cover) is also included.

Glenn Branca-Lightfield (In Consonance) (excerpt)

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