All Posts — Dan on May 5, 2017 at 10:12 pm




Does it make it any better if I say I’m quoting the Nico version? I’m just kidding, I love the Doors. Overrated by teenagers everywhere, but underrated by music snobs.

I just looked at this page for the first time in a while and realized it’s been almost a year since the last post/update, and I’ve never officially said goodbye. The release of Hull Down by The Lines is, as was announced back then, our last release. We had a good time, we released a handful of CDs and records over a too long period of time, but now it’s time to move on. Not planning on releasing anything else or updating this blog, so figured I’d come up with an appropriate way to end it. I know most labels these day have more releases on a single record store day than we did in 15 years, but humor me my melodrama. Thanks to Todd Hyman and the Carpark Family (Jason, Steph, Reese, Katie, Alec) for getting this stuff out there, and thanks to all my friends who pitched in or helped out, especially unofficial Acute partner Michael Train and Rob Carmichael, D.V. Caputo and Max Clarke for web help.

If you want to keep in touch, I’m keeping the Acute Records facebook page going as a place to post updates and info about artists we’ve worked with or just generally cool stuff I think might be of interest to the type of people who’d care about the same musics.

Beyond that, please check out my tumblr Danecdotes, which I intended to use to publish all kinds of stuff but it’s mostly used for posting youtube music videos at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Various DJ mixes, of the dancing and or listening variety, can be found on my mixcloud page, and some of my own music is on soundcloud.

Do I have any other homes on the internet? You bet I do! I have a personal page at that was set up to promote DJing and may be updated one day. I have a site for my (mostly currently dormant) printing activities at Sheffield Product and an online design portfolio at Behance. Finally the personal site for my wife and I, most useful for our trip blogs, DAN + NICOLE. I’m probably missing something and I’m sure there will be more. Just find me on facebook.

Finally I thought it would be fun to end this with a list of a bunch of stuff I hoped to put out one day or wish other people will. Some of this stuff I started talking to people about but just never got it together. You can make it happen.

First some of the Acute stuff needs to come out on vinyl, especially The Prefects. That would be killer.

Age of Chance’s pre-club music tracks.

Amin Peck compilation

Club Tango EP of the two singles

The Fans three singles compiled

Flowers singles and Peel Session

The Girls, reunion

It’s Immaterial’s early singles and EPs.

The complete IQ Zero

A Metabolist compilation

Nocturnal Projections, everything

The Pits/Garage Class, pre Happy Refugees

Propeller records compilation

Restricted Code singles and BBC sessions

The Table two singles and demos

The Tea Set compilation of singles

Vogel two singles, ReR Sampler track and a bunch of demos, some of which ended up on a Mirafiori CD

Yung Wu’s Shore Leave and the Dave Weckerman 1980 single

and of course, The Desperate Bicycles

until then…


All Posts,event,New Music,Old Music — Dan on May 4, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Sorry it’s been so many months since a post. Acute’s been quiet since we knocked out three awesome vinyl releases right out of the park around the turn of 2013. We still exist and have a few releases we may get out there but have been been busy elsewhere. In the meantime just wanted to do a quick update to let you know about some news related to artists that have been or are of the Acute family. Where to start?

I should probably start here since I’m a few days late. Vic Varney from The Method Actors told me about Art Rocks Athens, a special exhibition running from May 1st through Dec 31 of artifacts related to the Athens music scene of the late 70s and early 80s. There will be displays, screenings, performances etc. Check out the website linked above and the facebook page here.

No Trypes news but plenty of action with Speed the Plough, the band the Trypes evolved into.  Late last year, Bar None released a beautiful retrospective, The Plough and the Stars, featuring a “best of” CD, a 12″ with 6 new songs and a live set, a large booklet and a digital download card with even more goodies. A great intro to the band or a great way to catch up with old favorites. Since then, they’ve been recording more new material and have a bunch of shows lined up, at the In the Pines festival in Beacon NY next Saturday the 10th, a gig at Tierney’s in Montclair NJ the following saturday the 17th, and a show in Brooklyn at the Fifth Estate on May 23rd.

Ike Yard are working on a new album, “Rejoy” and also make an appearance on a fantastic new compilation from Factory Benelux called Of Factory New York, a benefit to assist Michael Shamberg, who ran Factory US. Lots of Factory favorites devoted tracks to this compilation, with iconic Lawrence Weiner artwork, including Ike Yard’s Kino. Do I have most of these songs already? Of course. Do I have them all in one place with killer artwork and for a good cause? Not yet. Vinyl has, along with Kino, such Dan Selzer dancefloor staples like ACR’s Do the Du, Quando Quango’s Love Tempo, 52nd Street’s Cool as Ice, Cabaret Voltaire’s Yashar (John Robie remix) a live version of New Order’s Your Silent Face, Konk’s Baby Dee, Section 25’s Looking From a Hilltop, Streetlife’s Act on Instinct, Marcel King’s Reach for Love, Thick Pigeon’s Subway, Arthur Baker’s Come On and Anna Domino’s Summer.

What a gig that would’ve been. Nothing that exciting! Following the release of the awesome book Punk 45: Original Punk Rock Singles Cover Art, edited by Jon Savage and Stuart Baker, Soul Jazz has started a series of punk 7″ compilations, organized by location/period/etc. Not unlike say, a Chuck Warner CD. The first volume is called Punk 45: Kill the Hippies! Kill Yourself! The American Nation Destroys its Young. Underground Punk in the United States of America, Vol 1. 1973-1980 and features U.S. Millie by Theoretical Girls, from the very first Acute release (and the Roir New York Singes Scene compilation before that). The second volume is Punk 45: There is No Such Thing as Society. Get a Job, Get a Car, Get a Bed, Get Drunk! Underground Punk in the UK 1977-81, Vol 2. and features no less (or more) than TWO Acute related tracks. The first LP ends with the cult-classic White Night by The Lines and the second LP (and whole shebang) ends with Going Through the Motions by The Prefects.

And speaking of the Prefects…lets talk about The Nightingales, the band the Prefects evolved into. They’ve got a new album out called For Fuck’s Sake, recorded at Faust Studio in Germany. Self-released, or as they say “No interference or outside opinions, no label, no distributor, no catalogue number, no bar code or logo shit, blah blah.” The record is killer and it’s getting great reviews and buzz. Once again and continuously they prove they’re not just some nostalgia act reunited to cash-in on those lucrative post-punk revival riches, but a living-breathing and evolving hard-working band just getting better and better. Killing it on tour and hopefully hitting the states soon. They’ve even got a proper video:


But if you want a blast from the past…check out this old documentary on John Peel that’s been making the rounds, featuring a discussion with a younger Nightingales and a searing performance from them at the end of part 3.


And talking about vintage footage…Innes Reekie, who contributed his Fire Engines notes to our Hungry Beat compilation, has posted “coming soon…” regarding the long spoken of documentary, The Sound of Young Scotland. So even though this teaser is from 2007,  let’s watch it again and cross our fingers that we’ll get to see it soon.


I think that’s enough for now. I have to go update one of my other blogs then maybe try to get some actual work done.


All Posts,event — Dan on May 30, 2012 at 1:56 pm

It’s been a little over a month since the release of Acute’s latest, Music for Neighbors by The Trypes, and there’s been a great reception. I wanted to share some of the press it’s gotten but first would like to let you know about a special and exciting show taking place next week.

The Trypes will be playing their second ever show since their original run in the 80s. If that wasn’t special enough, they will be joined by Yung Wu, another of the great Feelies sister bands, as well as their friends The Thousand Pities. And if THAT wasn’t special enough, the show is taking place at an Elks Lodge in South Orange New Jersey and is a “Rent Party” to raise money for local food charities in the South Orange/Maplewood area. The show is Friday night, June 8th at 8pm at South Orange Elks, 220 Prospect Street, South Orange, NJ. Minimum donation of 5$, facebook event page here.

I can’t imagine a better experience than getting to see these bands play at such a unique venue, away from NYC. And one of my favorite things about The Trypes, Yung Wu and the Feelies is that beyond being amazing bands, they are proud and great cover bands of the first order. Especially Yung Wu, who’s originals are totally fantastic of course, but it’s always fun to hear what they’re going to cover. From classic renditions of Neil Young, to surprises like Into the Valley by The Skids…you never know what these bands will cover (but you can always guess a few!). And while the Feelies may be the best known band and aren’t playing, almost all their members are involved in Yung Wu and the Trypes, so this is a great way to get the full picture.

For a sneak peak, check out this video footage of the first Trypes show since the 80s, opening up for one of Yo La Tengo’s famous Hanukkah nights at Maxwells.


And what a great reception the Trypes have been getting! Thanks to everyone who’s written about the release, here’s just a few.

Most recently, some kind words from Pete at Flowering Toilet, who deserves credit for writing about The Explorer’s Hold a few years ago.

Over in the UK, the webstore Boomkat, a great resource to pick up The Trypes as lossless files, wrote a great review on the release page. They end the review by writing “We just can’t enough of it, frankly; overnight The Trypes have become one of our favourite bands and we’d recommend them to fans of Young Marble Giants, Talking Heads, Felt, The Wake and other practitioners of the finest 80s art-pop.” It’s always appreciated when retailers take the extra step to actually listen to and review what they’re selling, especially when they speak so highly of something!

Likewise, our good old friend (and new father) Doug Mosurock covered the release for Other Music’s digital store.

Another retailer from the other side of pond, Norman Records, gave a 5 star review that had to use the lord’s name in vain in it’s excitement.

And there were nice words written by people not trying to sell you anything as well.

The essential blog Doom and Gloom from the Tomb wrote “…easily one of the best, most necessary reissues of 2012”

The Trypes were included in the Agit Readers excellent series or reissue reviews, Past Perfect. Though I do disagree about the worth of Bruce Springsteen!

Prefix gave it an 8.0!

Pitchfork gave it a 7.5. Which must be why I like Prefix .5 better.

Dusted went deep and included a link to one of the unreleased tracks on their review.

FACT listed it as one of the 10 most important reissues of that particular month. May not seem like a huge deal, how many reissues are there a month? Well there’s a lot! And they’re in good company with Talk Talk, Cleaners From Venus, David Kilgour, General Strike and others.

So that’s just a taste of the response. Some good links to check out if you want to hear some other mostly unanimous opinions about the releases greatness.



All Posts — Dan on January 9, 2012 at 10:30 am

Sorry it’s taken a month, but I’ve been meaning to recap Happy Refugees visit to the great city of New York in these United States, for their first time ever on these shores not to mention their first time even playing together since the mid 80s! To celebrate the release of Acute’s reissue/compilation Return to Last Chance Saloon, they decided to fly trans-atlantic and have an adventure and did they (we) ever!

Things started with a bang when they were invited by Crystal Stilts to open up for their EP release party at the Knitting Factory on Friday December 9th. I’d love to embed the video of that performance but I’m having technical difficulties so you’ll have to click on over to to check it out, where it should be up for a few months at least. Crystal Stilts were amazing, as were openers McDonalds, which featured members of Cause Co-Motion and Oxford Collapse. Also important that night is that I had my first fried chicken sandwich from the Commodore across the street.

The next day, Saturday the 10th, our favorite radio station WFMU aired Terre T’s Cherry Blossom Clinic featuring a live session recorded by Happy Refugees. Terre T always hosts great bands, and we (Acute) brought The Nightingales out for a session many years ago. This time we actually took the right PATH train so things when swimmingly. You can hear the entire show, including an 8 song set by the band online at Cherry Blossom Clinic. There are also links to go to each individual song if you’re feeling impatient. Here’s a picture from above:

Many thanks to Terre T. for having the band on, Dave Amels of the Reigning Sound for engineering the session, and Acute’s good friend Paul Bruno of The Unblinking Ear for helping out.

If that wasn’t enough, there was still one more show. Saturday night, December 10th, Happy Refugees headlined a show at the Cake Shop. Josh from Regal Degal helped brainstorm a pretty interesting bunch of artists. The night started with the mysterious and unique Suspensors, followed by the Felt-loving Sapphire Mansions and alternate-universe next big thing (in a superior universe), Regal Degal. If that wasn’t enough, DJing and selecting between sets was DJ iDeath (Andrew from MGMT) and none other than myself, playing some of the bands faves and some likeminded sounds from the 70s and early 80s. Another great night all around and a great surprise that Joly from Punkcast offered to come and shoot some of Happy Refugees set. He edited together and posted two songs…the classic Hamburger Boy:


and a special treat, the otherwise unrecorded What’s Your Appeal:


So thanks to Andy at Cake Shop, and all the dudes from Suspesnsors/Sapphire Mansions/Regal Degal and DJ iDeath and Joly! The next morning we capped things off with brunch at Roberta’s, because I wanted to make sure Happy Refugees got some good food and didn’t just eat bad NY pizza, and that was the end of a pretty exhausting and pretty awesome rock-n-roll weekend. A great way to celebrate the release of the album and to end the year. Speaking of which, Return to Last Chance Saloon made a few year-end best of the year lists despite only being out a couple of weeks, such as Jim Allen’s The Best Albums You Didn’t Hear This Year, Evan “Funk” Davies of WFMU’s #5 reissue of the year, a top 10 reissue of the year from Chris at Kim’s, number 3 top album of the year from Zan Emerson at Le Poisson Rouge,  and one of the reissues of the year from the excellent Straight to Video blog. They also made an appearance on a great playlist from France called Foggy Girls Club, well worth checking out.



All Posts,New Music — Dan on November 19, 2011 at 4:19 pm


You are going to hear a lot in the next few weeks about Acute’s next release, Return to Last Chance Saloon by Happy Refugees, starting with this. We made a little slideshow video for the song that started it all for me, Hamburger Boy. See it here, see it on youtube, please forward and post it, live it and love it. We’ve also put up the release page here:

Happy Refugees – Return to Last Chance Saloon

so check that out to read some promo blurbs and get 3 free songs as a taster. Heck, may as well post them here as well…

This is Cold
[audio: Happy Refugees-This is Cold.mp3]

Hamburger Boy
[audio: Happy Refugees-Hamburger Boy.mp3]

Warehouse Sound
[audio: Happy Refugees-Warehouse Sound.mp3]

The record comes out November 29th, I’ll post again when that long-awaited date arrives and will update that page with ordering information.

You will also be hearing a lot about this because not only has this been REMASTERED…not only is this being REISSUED, but Happy Refugees have REUNITED and they’re going to play two shows in New York City early in December to celebrate the release. Friday December 9th they have been graciously invited to open up for Crystal Stilts at the Knitting Factory for their EP release party (on Sacred Bones) where they will be joined by McDonalds. Then the following night for those who can’t brave Brooklyn or prefer more intimate basement spaces, Happy Refugees will be headlining at Cake Shop with Regal Degal, Suspensors and maybe more.

So consider this the first shot over the bow. There will be a few more posts with more detail and a whole lot of facebook info, so make sure you check out Happy Refugees and Acute Records on facebook.


All Posts — Dan on August 5, 2011 at 4:10 pm



All Posts,event — Dan on September 12, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Excited to be DJing this free party tuesday night at Santos. DJ William, who has been hosting the Joy Division/New Order night at Trophy Bar for a few months with Justin Miller is starting a new weekly party called FAC OFF (IT’S HACIENDA NIGHT). Now those who have known me for more then a while know I have a longstanding habit of being involved in Factory/Hacienda tribute parties. There were my first Factory tributes as part of my Transmission party at Plant Bar. There was the Hacienda party at Spa hosted by Record Camp. Tony Fletcher’s Step On party in Brooklyn. Aux Armes at Black and White, and so on.

What is the appeal to someone too young and too foreign to have ever experienced it? The ideals and fantasies of the Hacienda always hit home. New Order sitting in the Paradise Garage and wondering if their music would ever get played there…then wondering if they could recreate it. The Durutti Column playing to an empty room. Cabaret Voltaire funking it up.

It’s the culture clash of british post-punk/new wave and american club music through the 80s. In Mick Middles’ From Joy Division to New Order, the Factory Records story, there’s a list of the top 50 records of the Hacienda of 82 or 83, where Party Fears Two by the Associates sits next to D-Train’s You’re the One For Me. A time when New Order were listening to Donna Summer and Klein + MBO and producing club records like 52nd St’s Can’t Afford To Let You Go. A Certain Ratio and ESG are recording in New Jersey. New Order’s working with Robie and Baker and Quando Quango’s getting mixed by Mark Kamins while Section 25’s Looking from a Hilltop becomes a proto-freestyle breakers classic at the Funhouse. New York disco and electro-funk meets italo-disco and british New Wave.

Fast-forward a few years and the forward thinking DJs of the Hacienda start importing Chicago House and Detroit Techno records. A younger generation of post-post-punks raised on or with New Order arise, The Happy Mondays, 808 State featuring Graham Massey from Biting Tounges, A Guy Called Gerald. T-Coy. House, techno, acid-house, madchester, RAVE.

So that’s a lot of buzzwords…but it’s a good shorthand for a large amount of the music I like to DJ and listen to. Post-punk and new wave, disco and electro, house and techno.

I’ll be joining DJ William and Jacques Renault, whom I’ve had the honor of DJing with in the past.

Tuesday Sept. 14, Santos Party House. 100 Lafayette a block below Canal. Free. 21+. And upstairs at the same time, a very cool party hosted by Spencer Sweeney, folk from Gang Gang Dance and a bunch of their art-world friends.




All Posts,event,New Music,Old Music — Dan on May 18, 2010 at 11:52 am

The monthly party I hosted with Tropical Jeremy for 3 years is now back after a year long respite with new resident DJ Ben Gebhardt, which means I get to carry less records, show up later and leave earlier. We return tomorrow night, Wednesday May 19th with guest DJ Steve Silverstein of Christmas Decorations and Wodger Records. It’s also Jeremy’s birthday! And it’s the day after the 30th anniversary of Ian Curtis’s death, so I’ll be bringing plenty of moody Martin Hannett-produced post-punk and a few Joy Division gems along with the usual randomness. Dazzle Ships takes place from 9 till 1-ish (or later) at Heathers, 306 east 13th st at Ave. A in Manhattan and we now have an exciting new website to present such information, but as usual, facebook rules for this sort of thing.

Ike Yard’s new EP, Öst came out recently on the Phisteria label. It’s a great 10″ (for those of you new to vinyl, that’s a bit bigger than a 7″, but smaller than a 12″) featuring two new tracks and two remixes. The late-night atmosphere, the dubbed out synths, the  post-punk bass, the spoken vox all remain on the A-side Oshima Cassette, while the flipside Citiesglit is an altogether more ambient and textural affair. Phisteria will follow this up with a full-length soon.

In other Ike Yard-related news…the post-Ike Yard deconstructed hip-hop project Death Comet Crew, featuring Stuart Argabright and Michael Diekmann of Ike Yard, Shinichi Shimokawa and DJ High Priest (legendary hip-hop DJ, partner with Vince Gallo in “Trouble Deuce“) are making a rare live appearance in New York this saturday at Public Assembly in Williamsburg with Beans, Crunc Tesla, Plasticity and Toboggan. Details here.

We have had nothing but awesome press from all corners. Here’s some of it…

Last Days of Man On Earth


The Music Critic

Simon Reynolds Blissblog

BBC Music

Allmusic Guide





Critical Mob

Prefix Mag

Drowned in Sound

Spectrum Culture

The Big Takeover

I said plenty about Joy Division in my epic Acute Blog post around the time of my work on some Viva-Radio playlists tied-in to the release of the movie Control. I beg you to read it again.
One thing that’s always been funny about my passion for Joy Division is how every few years, every few months, different songs plant themselves in my head as a new favorite. For the last few months, I simply cannot stop listening to Digital. Historically, the idea that this is where the big change took place, that no matter how much you love the Warsaw material, that it wasn’t until they recorded this session with Martin Hannett that they started to truly show that they were something really special. But it’s the energy, simplicity and repetition of Digital that totally kills me. Even without Hannet’s touch, it’s somehow a great deal more modern then the material on An Ideal for Living. There’s almost a krautrock quality in it’s stilted rhythm and motorik/mechanic beat. Like Wire and the Fall on MORE speed. Imagine that. Here’s the video clip from the Here Are the Young Men video (I still have the Ikon VHS). Not the best audio or video quality, but even that just adds to the power of this performance.



— 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)
control-click to download

[expand title=TRACKLIST]

1 Lesson,  No.2

2 The Spectacular Commodity

3 Structure

4 Lightfield (In Consonance)

5 The Ascension


[expand title=PHOTOS AND ART]


[expand title=VIDEO]

A few years prior to the Ascension, Glenn improvises at one of  Jeffrey Lohn’s loft shows.


[expand title=PRESS THEN]


[expand title=PRESS NOW]

Vanity Fair, October 2003

David bowie picks his favorite 25 records

Bought in Zurich, Switzerland. This was an impulse buy. The cover got me. Robert Longo produced what is essentially the best cover art of the 80s (and beyond, some would say). Mysterious in the religious sense, Renaissance angst dressed in Mugler. And on the inside…Well, what at first sounds like dissonance is soon assimilated as a play on the possibilities of overtones from massed guitars. Not minimalism, exactly – unlike LaMonte Young and his work within the harmonic system, Branca uses the overtones produced by the vibration of a guitar string. Amplified and reproduced by many guitars simultaneously, you have an effect akin to the drone of Tibetan Buddhist monks but much, much, much louder. Two key players in Branca’s band were future composer David Rosenbloom (the terrific Souls of Chaos, 1984) and Lee Ranaldo, founding figure with Thurston Moore of the great Sonic Youth. Over the years, Branca got even louder and more complex than this, but here on the title track his manifesto is already complete.

Careless Talk Saves Lives
July 2003
Jon Dale

Finally, Glenn Branca’s classic “The Ascension” has just been reissued by Acute, and, as you would expect, it’s magnificent, huge and dense and threshing and full of miraculous clouds of overtone hover and viciously breathed guitar heaviness. It’s a classic piece of NYC loft process-rock brutalism that no home should live without. And if that’s not enough, the sheer sonic violence of the two-minute solo performance, captured on film and appended to the disc, is one of the most exhilirating things I’ve heard since Keiji Haino first blatted my head’s way. And, really, can you ask for more than that?

Kerrang, June 21 2003
Ben Myers

Guitar-mangling pioneer on an undiscovered alt-rock classic. The missing link between Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth, Glenn Branca played a pivotal role in the evolution of guitar music. Deconstructing the electric guitar and rebuilding it as howling, clunking, feedback-drenched symphonies that utilized multiple players, his work owes just as much to the experimental sounds of Philip Glass as The Stooges. Cutting his teeth alongside the NY punks of the late ’70s, Branca’s “The Ascension” (released in 1981) features future Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo and is one of the great undiscovered gems of no wave/alternative rock. Nihilism, discordance, chaos and tightly-wound musicianship are the order of the day here, ‘pieces’ such as “The Ascension” and the 12-minute “The Spectacular Commodity” the 1980’s underground’s versions of the ‘1812 Overture’. In a word: visionary.

NME, June 14th 2003

Louis Pattison

New York visionary’s symphonic guitar piece While most of his downtown contemporaries seemed set on dragging punk rock into the gutter, Glenn Branca had a higher purpose. On 1981’s “The Ascension”, four guitars are gathered into a shrieking symphony, multiple strings tuned to the same note to ratchet up the sheer aural overload. It’s by turns gratingly shrill and starkly beautiful – like the ghost of Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ channeled into a towering Marshall stack. Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo plays here, and Thurston Moore would later join Branca’s ranks. But while the Youth derived much from this monolithic maelstrom, they would never better it.


The Telegraph, June 14th 2003

Lynsey Hanley

In recent years, Glenn Branca has come to be associated more with the classical end of avant-garde music, alongside Philip Glass and Steve Reich, creating mesmerizing, repetitive tone cycles as part of his eponymous Ensemble. But he started out making experimental rock music with the likes of Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore, who went on to infiltrate the mainstream as members of Sonic Youth. Recorded in 1981, this album, released for the first time on CD, features Ranaldo as one of four guitarists that Branca put together in an attempt to trample over the limitations of the more conventional new wave sounds of the time. Like Patti Smith and Television, his musicians came out of the exhilaratingly pretentious scene that centred around downtown New York in the late 1970s. On each of the five compositions they wield their guitars like harmonious power tools, frightening and often ear-splitting in their strength. Not the easiest of records to listen to, but still sounding thrillingly new 22 years after its first release.

Uncut, June 2003
Jim Allen

Overdue reissue of No Wave classic — five stars The guitar wizard at the forefront of NYC late-70s/early-’80s “No Wave”, Glenn Branca mated contemporary classical structure with ear-splitting noise-rock in a manner that served both camps equally well, influencing avant noiseniks from Sonic Youth on. Branca’s second release for NY underground label 99 (home to ESG, Liquid Liquid, etc) is reissued here in all its multi-timbral glory, as sheets of cascading guitars carefully negotiate the balance between chaos and control. Extras like a live video clip and notes from Branca’s sideman/future Sonic Youth member Lee Ranaldo sweeten the pot.

The Wire, June 2003
David Keenan

Originally released in 1981 on 99 records, Glenn Branca’s The Ascension provides a fantastic snapshot of a transitional moment in the history of New York’s downtown music. It represents the first attempt to rebuild on ground previously leveled by No Wave groups Mars, Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, Red Transistor and Branca’s own The Static and Theoretical Girls. No Wave was primarily fuelled by profound acts of reversal and subtraction, where any overt notions of melody, form and musicianship were stripped out in favour of a more elemental and emotionally direct attack. All substance and no style, No Wave made expressive use of volume and rhythm, with barked monosyllabic vocals reducing language to primal phonetics. Yet despite No Wave’s aggressively inarticulate stance, most of its players were more selfconscious than first wave punks, their assault on form more deliberate than intuited. No Wave was a signal moment in that it represented a deliberate attempt to fuse volatile elements from various avant garde disciplines with rock aesthetics and a post-punk DIY ethos. Guitarist and composer Glenn Branca was one of the first of this group of players to fully articulate this bent polygot. In No Wave’s eviscerated forms, he divined a new kind of minimalism, one that had more to do with the claustrophobic street noise echoing around the skyscraping sound mirrors of downtown than the meditative headspaces of Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air. For The Ascension, Branca stuck to the pummeling rhythms and studiously artless downstrokes that characterized No Wave, but added massed guitars, some with multiple strings tuned to the same note. Branca and his then regular group – guitarists Lee Ranaldo, Ned Sublette, David Rosenbloom, bassist Jeffrey Glenn and drummer Stephen Wischerth – work through the implications of this approach, still a rock group but now boasting an orchestral reach. Tracks like “Lesson no. 2” and “The Spectacular Commodity” anticipate groups like Sonic Youth (Thurston Moore also passed through Branca’s ranks), Swans and Savage Republic, but the title track – a 13 minute instrumental speaking in tongues unknown-remains inviolable. Between them the four guitarists generate an unearthly torrent, rising through a series of metallic plateaux that dissolve like breath with the sudden shift of a chord. In the sleevenotes Lee Ranaldo bemoans the fact that the guitars were close miked in the studio, claiming that the lack of room tone robs the recording of the kind of power they were able to channel when agitating the volume of air in a concert hall or club; but it’s precisely the music’s unyielding quality and eye-level fury that marks The Ascension out as something else entirely. Call it a Heavy Metal symphony, punk rock minimalism, avant drone, whatever you want. It’s a beautiful noise.


Sunday Times Culture, June 29th 2003


Prepare for a slurry of vintage New York egghead art-rock. This month sees the release of two compilations of late-1970s/early-1980s downtown dissonance. New York Noise (soul jazz) and NY No Wave (Ze), but Glenn Branca’s 1981 album The Ascension is a cornerstone of the scene, now re-released with criminally nostalgic sleeve notes from eyewitness Lee Ranaldo, of Sonic Youth. Critics compared Branca’s ensemble to the Ramones playing Philip Glass, but this equation neglects Branca’s spatial awareness of silence, and the disorienting, nauseatingly spiritual effects of his ensemble’s profound repetitions. A bonus black-and-white video clip of Branca, suited and soloing alone against a white backdrop in 1978, is an iconic image of cool that towers above the current New York crop’s hand-me-down insouciance.
Three Stars = outstanding

Mojo, July 2003

Mike Barnes

Second solo album from ’81 features a fresh-faced Lee Ranaldo. Spotlights Sonic Youth’s debt to this pioneer. Originally released at the time of the New York No Wave scene-something Branca had himself been involved in with The Theoretical Girls and The Static – this was something way, way beyond. A mere four guitarists – including Branca himself – and one bass feature here, less than half the players on some of his symphonies, but they still sound like they could flatten a house. Twenty-two years on the metallic clang and combination of dissonance and strange harmonies in this music is still amazing. It was cranked out at such a level that although it overlapped with the world of ‘serious’ composition, in essence it was pure rock. The only minor gripe is that the drums thunder along with little apparent connection to the rest of the instruments. But it still sounds like nothing else, especially the title track, a guitar hurricane made up of monstrous, hitherto unimagined chords.
Four Stars

Record Collector, July 2003

David Hemingway

Emerging from New York’s no-wave movement of the 1970s, Glenn Branca seems simultaneously inspired by Steve Reich and the Ramones, creating recordings that take cues from both minimal classical and rock ‘n’ roll music. Since the original release of The Ascension in 1981, the former member of the Static and the Theoretical Girls has composed pieces for between 100 and 2000 guitar players. The Ascension might only feature five further co-conspirators (including Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, who also contributes retrospective sleeve notes) but Branca, nevertheless, strived for a sense of enormity and magnitude that he would attempt more literally with three-figure band lineups. Despite this breadth of vision, however, The Ascension’s five compositions (two of which extend beyond 12 minutes) are peculiarly tedious. The clanging, jarring guitars are akin to a war of attrition and a de facto reminder of the beauty of silence.

MuzikJuly 2003
Duncan Bell

This remastered re-release of Glenn Branca’s 1981 debut is a must for anyone who’s ever enjoyed the acid-edged, urban dream worlds of Neu and Sonic Youth (Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth was in Branca’s band at the time) or the epic noise-rock of GYBE, Black Dice, or, most of all, late-period Swans. Underpinned by Krautrock-ish rhythms, the music goes from spine-tingling, wordless neo-ambience, to an engulfing sonic assault that’s like having black ants swarm over you. An astonishing record, whose power has been dimmed neither by oddly over-warm production or time.
Four Stars

Kansas City Pitch

Dave Segal

In bands such as the Static and Theoretical Girls, Glenn Branca helped to spawn New York City’s evanescent yet seminal No Wave movement. But his most lasting and loudest work occurred in the massive symphonies he recorded under his own name, many of which — along with Rhys Chatham’s similar pieces — laid the foundation for noise rock. Throughout the ’80s, no other figure more exhilaratingly combined neoclassical arrangements and tonal exploration with feral Lower East Side rock energy and volume. The Ascension originally came out in 1981, and its influence still reverberates through the rock underground. Sonic Youth, for one, owes a huge debt to Branca. (SY guitarist Lee Ranaldo plays on this disc and pens liner notes.) Using four guitars, bass and drums, Branca’s ensemble creates a caustic clangor with a Wagnerian will-to-power that makes much of The Ascension sound like a clarion call for military mobilization. (These guitars are WMD.) The awesome title track is Branca’s crowning achievement, a grotesquely quixotic articulation of the desire to be superhuman — or at least to forge the ultimate guitar tone, the all-encompassing KLANG that conjures images of the birth of stars, planets and galaxies.

xlr8r, July 2003
Alexis Georgopoulos

The 80s revival shouldn’t be seen as entirely shallow and insipid. With the renewed interest in all things No Wave, releases such as this offer the more potent Jekyll to electroclash’s innocuous Hyde. Best known for linking up Sonic Youth anti-guitarists Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore (only Ranaldo is present in this five-guitar line up), Glenn Branca’s own small guitar arsenals have become the stuff of legend. If these recordings pale in comparison to the live experience, the ecstatic drone of “Light Field (In Consonance)” and theatrical histrionics of “The Spectacular Commodity” are no less rapturous for it. Essential.

Vice July 2003
Erik Lavoie

“Best Cover of the Month”
’Ä®If five guitars droning amid prehistoric drum rhythms in a bristling, effervescent wave of electric speed isn’t your idea of heaven, you need to get with it, like, quick. This is what Yngwie Malmsteen might have done if he ever stopped using his guitar as an extension of his dick. OK, not really. But you get the idea.

Tandem Newspaper, June 29 2003
Chris Twomey

The godfather of New York noise-rock, Glenn Branca, has his seminal first album from 1981 remastered and finally reissued in the US (it’s cd debut was on the Italian experimental label NewTone). Branca is the composer who came out of New York’s “No Wave” art-punk scene with an idea of massed guitars with precise tunings, that grew from four players (plus bass and drums) on The Ascension to orchestras playing specially built instruments with steel strings – even up to 2000 musicians for a special millennium performance in Paris! Guitarists who played in his groups over the years included members of Sonic Youth, Swans, Helmet and Band Of Susans, who took Branca-style dissonance into their own rock contexts. But what Branca heard in live performances of longer, sustained pieces like “The Ascension” was the textural possibilities for his subsequent wall-of-sound symphonies that were composed with an ear for the ghostly “resultant tones” produced by such complex tunings. In this way he burst upon the avant garde sound worlds of composers Penderecki and Ligeti, scaring theorists like John Cage with his wild, ecstatic energy.

Repellent Zine

Sounds and a place that is said to no longer exist is the poetic claim used to analogue this studio accomplishment. A musical craft that the engineers could not completely handle after its etching in 1981. Documenting this avant-garde emission as an antidote for the schematic blandness found in much of today’s musical potions (whose palatableness involves little thought or work) is contrary to its potential as an augmentation of the malignancy created by the lust for making something new. This escapade subtly abandons familiar conventions and shatters the dichotomy between the collective and the self, as it is a great feat to achieve the two at once. It is experimentation presented by an ensemble of trained “middle class wanderers” consisting of four guitars, a bass, and drums. Here, the usual suspects of a traditional orchestra can be found. And the elements of conceptual art are well dwarfed by technical strategies and sheet music. The tuning is abnormal, yet precise. Theatrical and cinematic styles are intrinsic in its direction, making for tense, suspenseful, and, of course, climactic musical landscapes. Beyond the 19th century romantic spikings, the dramatic intentions of their music were apparent in live performances as they coaxed “demons into actuality” and “grated strings in a crucifixion pose” but now, can only be imagined when listening. Although subsequent echoes exemplify The Ascension’s impact on art noise as a movement, these sounds for the time were undeniably uncharted, and perhaps even unmappable. Rock-guitar-turned-stringed-orchestra, the vessel for destination nouveau. The points of reference that apply to this “high art” are indefinite. One could easily point their finger at scientists like Per Ubu, Sonic Youth, or Blonde Redhead, who all create a sandwich in terms of the musical timeline; Glenn Branca being the meat between the buns. But there is hardly any trace of homage paid to the music scene that was saturating the eardrums of every hip animal in New York City at the time of its release. Looking to their historical musical antecedents, Branca and his clan rely heavily on repetition for their inquiries, they twang strings, they hit things. At times this group of musicians sounds as though it was just born, and discovering music and their instruments for the first time. And at other times like an advanced species that has stumbled upon a new, more advanced form of expression used to summon a greater type of being. The locality of The Ascension sound is not insignificant; its terrain is not stagnant. It is all epic.

Giant Robot, Summer 2003

Martin Wong

Mixing high-art music with lo-fi punk rock, this 1981 recording pits the rhythm section against four guitarists including Branca, David Rosenbloom, Ned Sublette, and Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo. Guess who won? These four pieces place rock guitar in an instrumental and experimental setting, spending up to 13 minutes to explore riffs, melodies, and songs. It’s very melodic-at times dramatic-with themes coming, going, weaving, and growing on an orchestral level. There’s also a short film to help you visualize the chaos.

Logo Magazine, June 2003
Gillian Nash

Nostalgia is a curious phenomenon, the post-event cool afforded the likes of Abba and the Carpenters proves that, and looking back to “the good old days” is an undertaking to be approached with caution. So, listening to Glenn Branca’s “the Ascension” twenty-two years after its initial release, is this the apogee of the avant-garde “no wave” movement pioneered by Branca’s own Theoretical Girls, or forty minutes of pretentious self-indulgence? The answer comes by a circuitous route: Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore served time with Branca, and the roots of the Youth’s genius are here, as are the seeds of Tortoise, Godspeed You! Black Emperor; listen closely and you’ll even hear then-contemporaries Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen. Self-indulgent it may be, pretentious it certainly is not; this is the ORIGINAL pirate material.
Four Stars

Pitchfork Media June 20th, 2003
Andy Beta

I was teaching the Dwight highschoolers how to drunk-drive when I first heard The Ascension. “When the vision’s getting blurry, when you can’t handle yer liquor or yer speed,” I said, “cover one eye and your head’ll stop spinning. It takes that binocular dilemma right out of there so you can see straight. Visionary or not, it’s easy to steer straight with only one eye working.” Glenn Branca knows nothing about this: he was never one to limit his vision. Seeing Rock out of one side and Academic out the other, the two only blurred together in his third eye. By 1981, Branca had already played in Rhys Chatham’s Guitar Trio for four years, and had disbanded his No Wave groups Theoretical Girls and The Static to focus on larger movements for amplified guitar. He had even completed compositions like “Lesson No.1” and “Dissonance”, bringing to light the possibilities for multiple guitars beyond the Molly Hatchet formations of the early 70s. But the group he assembled to play a rare tour of the States around 1980 would cohere in such a way as to make his most recent work to that point, “The Ascension”, his most fully realized. Featuring David Rosenbloom from downtown group Chinese Puzzle, as well as future Sonic Youth guitar-beating beat Lee Ranaldo, the piece was scored for four guitars, bass, and drums; his sextet was Times Square neon and the ghost-light luminance of the city at 3 a.m. focused into a laser-like intensity. It was ferocity never seen nor heard before, not even on that coast-to-coast tour, where the guitars would slash it out on stage nightly, roaring alive like the 6 train, one-eyed through dank tunnels across the country. Trying to capture that essence in the elitist Power Station studio, even Ranaldo– in his excellent liner notes for this reissue– admits it was hard to recreate the actual beast. Whatever Weasel Walter was able to glean digital remastering from is unbeknownst to me, but this thing is fucking huge. You can sure bet Branca knows about driving drunk: he swerves about on these city streets between two musical extremes like a pilled-n-pompadoured Popeye Doyle on his way to the French Connection set. On one hand, he seems to be in the slow lane with all the Sunday drivers moving to Brahms and Buckner on the West Side Highway, making symphonic movements with the blinker on for miles before the turn. Riding on the Neu!-like toms of Stephan Wischerth and a bassline that lunges out like Drive Like Jehu, the four guitars in “Lesson No.2” quickly gain on traffic, buzzing and droning about 88 miles faster than anyone else clogging the lanes. It sounds almost reckless, as he steers and swerves the guitars into the other lanes, right at the oncoming lights of punk-crushed cars, weaving in and out of traffic, and then suddenly cutting down dark Chinatown alleys of urban rot. Your knuckles turn white, clinging to the door handles– it feels so out of control, but every movement has been precisely laid-out. “The Spectacular Commodity” is precision defined, the massive guitars gleaming like metal and glass towers in a grand opening movement, its bass menacing the very foundations with a low rumble. The manic speed of the piece increases to white-hot levels of crashing, cacophonous overtone; from these bloodied guitar strings and twisted metal carnage you can discern not just the euphoric guitar bliss of everyone from Sonic Youth to My Bloody Valentine, but also the mighty crescendos of Sigur Ros, Mogwai, Black Dice, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, or whomever, here executed with a plasma-like energy and melodic/harmonic structure still light-years beyond the forenamed. “Light Field (In Consonance)” is as majestic as its title would suggest: guitars rain down like torrents from thunderclouds, but with a savagery typical of back alley stabbings. When the guitar strikes like sheets of lightning into these ascendant runs at the apex, it’s as anthemic and all-powerful as anything I’ve ever heard from a six-stringed electric, in rock or any experimental context. I’ve had the symphony of the streets do a little winking dance in a light drizzle to Monk’s solo piano playing before, I’ve had Ellington make the lights of Broadway glimmer and dance for miles. White Light/White Heat split my skull open with the cold cruelty of the last exit to Brooklyn, while Paul’s Boutique foretold the coke-smoking pleasures of the Vice lifestyle ten years before I arrived. Daydream Nation carved out the skyscraper shapes and dungeon scrapes of the sewer below in sound, but none of these quintessential New York records made every single movement of the Gotham populous move as one quivering entity in my head as does Branca’s finale, “The Ascension”. Every step pounded out on concrete, every seeping bag of dragged garbage, every rat squeal, every metal-on-metal cry of the arriving train on the third rail, every disfigured bum, and all the echoing voices seem to be notated for these detuned guitars. The nasty city these compositions were birthed in appears no longer to be with us. A ghost city, seemingly isolated to Martin Scorsece and Abel Ferrera videos, still haunts us as an ineffable layer over the cleaned city of Disney, as brutal and terrifying as the city has always been. She’s never left; it’s nice to have her back.

Dusted Magazine
Charlie Wilmoth

Noise Reissue The Ascension was written in 1980, but this reissue also contains a video clip of Glenn Branca playing electric guitar in 1978. Branca bangs his head wildly, thrashing at his guitar – the actual sounds produced, however, seem to bear a closer relationship to Branca’s proximity to his overdriven amp than to what he’s actually playing. The clip looks and sounds a little bit ridiculous now, especially since Branca was onstage by himself – it’s like a drunk teenager throwing a tantrum. But what Branca was doing must have seemed pretty wild then: New York’s No Wave scene (in which Branca was a key player) was in its infancy, and the closest antecedents for Branca’s noise either generally adhered to fairly traditional approaches to song form (punk rock) or dynamics (free jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock). Fast forward two years, and Branca was still embracing noise but looking for new ways to shape it. The Ascension finds Branca in transition from his 1978 off-the-cuff screeching to his later punishing, layered guitar symphonies (the first of which was recorded in 1981). On The Ascension, the bombast of Branca’s later work is clearly present. The album features four guitarists (including Branca and future Sonic Youth member Lee Ranaldo) along with bass and drums. The guitars, usually played with nonstandard tunings, are set for stun – it usually sounds like all four guitarists are playing, and they’re almost always using distortion. And drummer Stephan Wischerth’s primal thumping rhythms will be familiar to fans of Branca’s later work. Also, the long running times and epic feel of many of the pieces on The Ascension show that Branca was already finding creative ways to work outside the confines of the standard rock song. The Ascension is every bit as dramatic as anything Branca was doing a decade later. Still, Branca had a long way to go before he wrote many of his gloriously loud symphonies, the defining characteristics of which were his uses of dense clouds of feedback sound made up of aggregates of weird guitar tones. Most of the guitar sounds on The Ascension are fairly straightforward, even dry, in comparison. The guitars interlock in patterns that are half minimalism (in that they’re simple and repetitive) and half heavy metal. Only on the excellent title track are they primarily used for texture. For that reason, The Ascension isn’t nearly as brutal or overloaded as much of Branca’s later work. But it’s a fascinating historical document, and it has still stood the test of time fairly well because of Branca’s ability to use extended forms to create drama.

Other Music June 17th, 2003
Michael klausman

Finally, a legitimate re-release of Glenn Branca’s seminal debut long playing record that was originally released in 1981 on the most important independent New York label of the day, 99 records (home to Liquid Liquid, ESG). After moving to New York and fronting two of the most caustic no wave bands going (Theoretical Girls, Static), Branca honed his vision, taking out the histrionics, but leaving in the theatricality and grandiosity. This is huge music made with a small ensemble, and yet for all its reputed ugliness, the compositions here actually soar. Patterned guitar riffs create a forward moving velocity that belies the density of the songs. This is possibly the most listenable music to be sprung from no-wave; in fact it practically turns on the genre’s conventions by getting downright romantic at points. Branca’s ensemble famously employed Lee Renaldo (who is featured here) and Thurston Moore in their pre-Sonic Youth days, and the more you listen the more you realize how intensely this must have influenced their subsequent careers. Put this on and then give “Sister” (recorded three or four years later) a spin and you’ll see what I mean. Essential.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian June 11, 2003
George Chen

Originally released on 99 Records in 1981, The Ascension marks a transition for Glenn Branca from his rock bands, the Static and Theoretical Girls, to the guitar symphonies he is best known for. Ascension can also be seen as the point at which the early-’80s New York underground merged with high-art ambition, exemplified by the Sonic Youth crew who served in Branca’s guitar army. You can hear it in a track like “Spectacular Commodity,” which shifts from dark, ominous clangings into triumphant melodies pulled out of four open-tuned electric guitars. The simple rhythm section of Stephen Wischerth and Jeffrey Glenn allows Branca’s, Lee Ranaldo’s, Ned Sublette’s, and David Rosenbloom’s guitars to collide and respond melodically. Even in his vocal groups, Branca’s songs were always repetitive and minimal, quite different from the raging skronk and skree that is associated with no wave. Though this record has its jarring, visceral moments, the harmonics and drones of “Light Field (In Consonance)” hint at the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor rather than the retro Gang of Four set. Just like Robert Longo’s famous fighting suits that adorn the cover, the record is about the savagery lurking under polite surfaces. As an embodiment of that tension between control and chaos, Ascension still sounds vital.

Comes With a Smile Summer 2003
Simon Berkovitch

In the current climate of translucent facsimiles of the late ’70s New York No Wave scene, this remixed reissue of ‘The Ascension’, originally released on the 99 records label, home to the spellbinding syncopation of Liquid Liquid amongst others, is a comfortingly confrontational reminder of the real deal. Branca’s avant-rock playing in legendary outfits The Static and the Theoretical Girls predate the ‘guitar army’ that is premiered on this release. Five instrumental pieces, performed by a 4 guitar/bass/drums ensemble absorb the leftfield experiments of the Velvet Underground, Neu! and minimalists such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass but create a wholly new music in the process, a music that breathtakingly resonates 25 years later. Although the aforementioned references points may seem familiar, in terms of emotional engagement, Branca’s guitar symphonies are only comparable to themselves. On release, ‘The Ascension’ forced a frenzied critical debate as to the nature of the compositions: was this a classical/experimental ensemble performing ‘rock’ music or a rock band working in the experimental/classical tradition? This listener perceives Branca’s work as a wonderful (and accessible) assimilation of the two, but surely the critical rhetoric is left redundant in the presence of such powerful, emotionally charged music.

Opener Lesson No. 2 introduces us to Branca’s abandoned and uncoiling snake of sound, as the four clanging and breathless electric guitars charge into the composition, dragged along by the relentlessness of the bass and drums. This is indeed relentlessness in its most positive form as no piece outstays its welcome, regardless of length. The composition concludes with gargantuan guitar clangs, slicing the air as if the Exploding Plastic Inevitable had commandeered Big Ben. The Spectacular Commodity and the title track begin with great clusters of guitar, hovering unchained from the earth, like one of Ligeti’s majestic contributions to Kubrick’s ‘2001’, before embarking on their mantric, linear odysseys. This is music that is both ancient and modern, familiar and unexpected, atonal yet beautifully crafted. Branca’s muse permeates the guitar experiments of both My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth, whose Lee Ranaldo features here and provides a fascinating snapshot of the No Wave scene in his album notes. Indeed, the titling of ‘The Ascension’ in a ’70s rock context is wholly appropriate, alluding to the brave new world of possibilities that John Coltrane’s album of the same name revealed to the ’60s jazz fraternity.

Seattle Weekly August 5th, 2003
Jess Harvell

I spent an hour trying to figure out how to write this review without using a variation on the old “rock and classical make for uncomfortable bedfellows” saw. Then I gave up, because it’s true. Most of the time, the best you get are noble (or ignoble) (or ignorable) (or both) failures like Rachels or inspired one-offs like John Cale’s Paris 1919, on which Little Feat play chamber music. I spent another hour trying to figure out how to write this review without stating for the umpteenth time that Glenn Branca has been the most assiduous composer-performer attempting to bridge the gap in the last 20 years. But he has: Academy and street were never the same after ex-theater student Branca heard the high, singing note at the heart of the Ramones, the celestial monochord that binds the world. Branca’s spent the last 20-odd years refining his multiguitar orchestral idea (which he may have pinched from his close associate Rhys Chatham; see Table of the Elements’ recent, lovingly packaged Chatham set, An Angel Moves Too Fast to See). The Ascension is that idea in chrysalis. If tracks like “Lesson No. 2” have the requisite no-wave chimes and onrushing tom-toms (simulating the 5:15 train or the first Television album), the longer pieces achieve a soaring lift that owes as much to Romanian modernist Gyorgy Ligeti as N.Y.C. no-wavers Mars. For anyone interested in the origins of what, say, Sonic Youth (whose Lee Ranaldo supplies liner notes) were doing until they became the world’s greatest classic-rock revival band, The Ascension is urgent and key.

Brooklyn Rail August/September 2003
Jason Gross

More than the records he’s made, Glenn Branca’s real contribution to music is the whole aesthetic that he has helped to create. Like fellow New Yorker Laurie Anderson, he helped bring the world of avant composition and ideas into the realm of popular music. Depending on how you straddle the fence, you can either praise or blame him for the convergence of these once hostile worlds, something that’s been happening more and more in the last ten years as the lines between composers and rock musicians continue to blur.

Though this album, Branca’s second, was originally released twenty-two years ago (on 99 Records, a label that usually favored rock bands), the music holds up remarkably well’Äî and not just because it’s a piece of history by now. Most rock fans will probably know Branca’s group as the training ground for members of Sonic Youth, and indeed Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo appears on this record. In fact, the rave-ups heard here are definite precursors to what SY would soon be doing on their own soon afterward. Branca himself had rock roots, having worked in a band called Theoretical Girls (who’ve also recently had their work reissued on Acute Records) before embarking on a career as a composer.

For years, art-rock bands had used synthesizers to replicate string and horn sections. Branca had the same idea, but he decided that this could be accomplished with a guitar section. Accordingly, he and three other string-benders arranged their parts much as a classical ensemble would, with the help of a rhythm section. As far as classical music goes, Branca is less attuned to Cage and Stockhausen than to Wagner (with a touch of Duane Eddy and Link Wray) as he builds a dark majesty and grandeur in his compositions. The twelve-minute “Spectacular Commodity” starts with sinister/ringing guitars and then soars before picking up a 4/4 rock beat and resolving into sunny layers of sound. “Structure” is intense pounding and clanging’Äî basically, industrial music before its time. “Light Field (In Consonance)” is lighter, breathier, presenting an open and playful landscape leading to the sustained climaxes of the title track.

Another Downtown avant-rock pioneer, Rhys Chatham, might protest that he dreamt up the idea of a guitar orchestra first, but Branca still deserves credit for making a classical sensibility part of the downtown New York’Äìchic aura. Though he’s now gained enough respectability to get regular work doing film soundtracks, commissions, and actual orchestra scores, this well-crafted early recording is his real gift to music.

Blender September 2003
Jon Caramanica

NYC experimentalist creates a rock symphony from guitar overload ****

There’s more than one way to make a guitar rock, No Wave linchpin Glenn Branca determined at the turn of the ’80s. On his second album, 1981’s The Ascension, Branca teamed up four guitarists – including future Sonic Youther Lee Ranaldo – to do what just one couldn’t: marshal a cascading, vibrating sheet of feedback that built songs out of sheer force. “The Spectacular Commodity” begins with call-and-response drones, then subtly accelerates until all four instruments are rifting in vicious conflagration – and that’s just the first half. The best of all is the 13-minute title track, which careens from somber shoegazing to eerie spectacle to ecstatic exuberance, unified by the violence of its four-times-six strings.

Phosphor Summer 2003

It was 1981 when four New York-based guitarists, a drummer and a bass-player came together to start releasing a remarkable concept, which had already been tried out in New York clubs and during a US live tour. Starting in the no wave bands The Static and the Theoretical Girls, Glenn Branca moved in a slightly different musical direction combining classical music and rock. Is the Ascension a rock band performing classical pieces or an experimental ensemble performing rock music? It’s a question that remains unanswered after listening to this album, or the ones by Glenn Branca that were released later in time. The driving, clanging guitar structures, mechanic drums and heavy bass have been put into classical settings, reminding of minimal classical composers such as Steve Reich. One of the band members Lee Ranaldo has continued this sound in Sonic Youth, one of the best underground guitar bands from the 80’s. All five compositions full of guitar bliss have a certain ominous tension and dissonant character, that remained unchanged and fascinating after all these years. The Ascension offers a nostalgic moment from one of the most interesting periods in the New York music scene.

Swingset #4 Fall 2003
Byron Coley

Although this is sheer speculation, I would posit that the man, Glenn Branca, is almost no one’s favorite person. There is something about the way that Glenn carries himself, something about the way his hubris precedes him into a room, that many find a bit off-putting. But it is probably just these qualities (or variations of them) that have allowed Glenn to produce the substantial body of work that he has. His music was created more or less in opposition to extant traditions, and while the syncretic mesh it evidenced then may sound somewhat acceptable now, at the time it was viewed as aesthetic poison.

Much has been made of Branca’s early band recordings, both with The Theoretical Girls and with Static. There has been a great deal of talk about Glenn’s exclusion from the No New York comp and how that skewed people’s view of the No Wave scene. But the T-Girls, a band I liked quite a bit, were not (at least in my memory) truly of the same ilk as the core No Wave bands. They seemed much more clearly in the linear tradition of art-school/art-rock bands, and did not seem too out of line with widely popular combos of the early Hurrah! Period. This may have been because Jeffrey Lohn’s hand was as evident as Glenn’s was (if not more so) in shaping their live sound. But whatever the reason, The T-Girls did not come off as being as monolithically antithetical to rock-qua-rock as Teenage Jesus, The Contortions, Mars or DNA. Some would make the case that Static were something else again, but to my mind, it was when he started his ensembles that Branca really began moving into the unknown.

Although Rhys Chatham always points out that his fusion of rock-guitar-hugeness and minimalist/maximalist-dynamics prefigures Branca’s in all ways, there was always the sense that Branca was coming from a rock base while Chatham was coming out of ‘composition”. This made a lot of difference in how their musics were heard, relatively, and by whom. And really, think of it – inside of the ’70s/’80s rock continuum (where Branca was seen to function) it’d be a whole lot easier to make a radical move than it would inside of ‘serious” music of the same period. Chatham, by taking the approach he did, minimized the impact of his music on non-eggheads. Branca’s apparent decision to appear as a new distention of rock’s aesthetic gambol made it much easier for him to appear cutting edge. Not that this was necessarily a conscious decision, but it was a byproduct of the context in which Branca’s music evolved.

The early music of Glenn’s ensembles (which, loosely speaking, comprises this stuff and the Lesson No. 1 EP) was clearly perceived as great, graspable and extremely loud experimental rock music. There was a sense that it had plenty in common with the world of serious composition, but it never seemed of it in the way that Chatham’s did. As far as being off-puttingly noisy, well, in contrast to some of the other stuff that was going on just then (Remko Scha, Z’ev, Non, even Boris Policeband), there was a kind of approachability to Branca’s music that could really get you lurching in place in a way that suggested the music’s function was truly rockist in origin.

All of this comes to mind as I listen to The Ascension for the first time in a while. The textural guitar moves, overtone implications and crosscut rhythms here have been re-contextualized by so many people in the decades since this first appeared; it is difficult to remember how extreme it could sound at the time. And the visual memory of these skinny, goony guys all downstroking together is something that still brings a smile to my face. The particular unit on this disk – Ned Sublette, David Rosenbloom, Lee Ranaldo and Glenn on guitars; Jeffrey Glenn on bass; Stephen Wischerth on drums – really made an impression on late-night New York, as well as the world. Although each of the members had a unique vision that they eventually pursued, they all were really great at sublimating their desires to Glenn’s pulse, and the results still sound fantastic.

As Lee Ranaldo writes in his excellent liner notes, the sound and feel of this recording doesn’t really match the incredibly visceral feel of the band live, but I don’t know if anyone could have captured that in the day. These guys played so many shows in relative shit-boxes – low ceilings, lousy P.A.’s, nodding soundmen – that their live gigantism sometimes seems as though it was an attempt to just fucking flatten the surroundings (ala Borbetomagus). Glenn would be gesturing and grimacing like the leader of a very weird tactical militia, and the rest of them would be bearing down so fucking hard that it would hurt your ears just to look at them.

The Ascension (who but Branca would have the balls to name a record that?) does not quite recapitulate this feeling, but it is still a boss listen. Played loud, it is possible to appreciate the greatness of the shifts in landscape here, to wallow in the imaginary tone clusters like a fucking hog, to imagine yourself shaking sweat all over George Scott’s sneakers while these guys were throwing down on a hot summer night at Tier 3.

Of course, heard now, pieces like ‘Light Field (Inconsonance)” sound more like a chiming cross between The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again” and Talking Heads ’77 than anyone could have imagined at the time. But it’s kind of cool to have enough distance on this stuff to see that is was part of the great rock-churn and not something from outer space (as many suspected). Because really, I think that’s what Glenn always kind of imagined it was – loud, loud avant rock, played the way it should be. And it really is beautiful stuff.

The sound of the transfer here is fine. Yeah, it could be louder, hotter, noisier, but I think that everything that was on the tapes is on the CD. Moreover, the bonus video track of Glenn spazzing on solo guitar in the manner of a fully caffeinated Rudolph Grey in 1978 is a portrait worth viewing. He was so young then, so wild, and I guess a lot of us were, too. Cool.

Perfect Sound Forever November 2003
Tom Schulte

The Ascension originally came out in 1981. This is the domestic debut on CD of the work, completely remixed by Weasel Walter of The Flying Luttenbachers. It is an enhanced CD featuring a video clip of a Branca performance from 1978. This album was the order formed from the determined chaos of Branca’s prior no wave bands The Static and Theoretical Girls. There is a focused aggression that is delivered with measured steps The guitar army that performs these instrumental avant-rock pieces is five strong, including a bassist. One of those is Lee Ranaldo. Ranaldo pens the liner notes that puts this monstrous opus in the context of New York at that time, when the musicians on here had come of age to Velvet Underground, Stockhausen, John Cage and more. Ranaldo reminds us that Branca did radical theater pieces before moving on to music. The music here written by Branca contains that sense of dramatic impact and larger-than-life scale that comes from his stage experience. This is also the closest thing to a rock album from this period so is the most accessible gateway into his art.


[expand title=LINKS]

Glenn Branca
Official Web Site

Glenn Branca Forum

Atavistic Records
Home to many other fine Branca releases

EST Magazine

Head Heritage
Review on Julian Cope’s site

Pitchfork Media

Interview and Article



All Posts,mp3,Old Music — Dan on February 22, 2010 at 1:38 am

Been meaning to post about some recent (to somewhat recent) reissues and share some music before posting about our own upcoming reissue, This is Still It by The Method Actors. These are all releases that I would’ve loved to have done on Acute, but a better, more appropriate label got to do it!

First up is Flaming Tunes, whom I feel so strongly about I had to make a little collage from the original tape insert…

Flaming Tunes was a cassette only release from 1985 or so recorded by longtime friends Gareth Williams and Mary Currie. It first came to my attention in the pre-file-sharing days when people would make tapes or even burn CDs for each other when I traded some CD-rs with a guy in Germany named Eric Wilhelm. I sent him CD-rs of the Homosexuals, Desperate Bicycles, Scritti Politti, Prefects etc and he sent me a ton of This Heat-related stuff. Since getting turned on at the Oberlin Co-Op, This Heat had been a favorite band of mine. Among the live recordings and other rarities was a release with a photocopied sleeve called “After the Heat (unreleased Demo-Recordings)”. I was totally blown away. I was expecting to hear some kind of lo-fi proggy, punky noisy racket  and instead found an eclectic selection of beautiful and delicate songs, ranging from minimal and ambient atmospheres to circular and repetitive yet melodic and enchanting songs.

Except for the fidelity, it didn’t sound like a demo to me, it sounded like a completely new and different direction for This Heat, though with a few similarities. It wasn’t until a few years later that I learned it wasn’t a This Heat recording at all! I can’t remember exactly where, but somewhere on the internet, discussion about these recordings came out and Mary Currie appeared to right all wrongs. After Gareth Williams left This Heat to spend some time in India, he came back and started collaborating with Mary. In 1985 they released these recordings as Flaming Tunes through Contagious Unit, which described itself as “a cooperative of musicians producing and distrubting low cost, high quality cassettes because we want to.” Unfortunately, following it’s release, it was relatively forgotten until copies started circulating with the “This Heat” title.

Since straightening the internet out, things began to fall into place and Flaming Tunes finally saw release last year on the new label Life and Living Records. They have kindly given me permission to share one of the songs, and I had a hard time choosing. It’s really a perfect record. Tape experiments, lo-fi keyboards, whimsical percussion, strange drop-outs…moments of silence. 80s drum machines and Casios co-exist with fiddles, whistles and clarinets. Echoes of Indian percussion, dub reggae, acoustic folk, musique concrete, a bit of the ReR/Rock In Opposition prog/art/songcraft you’d expect. In Raindrops from Heaven, over 2 minutes of outdoor nature noises exist before a simple percussion part (loop?) and beautiful out of tune piano and bass emerge for 2 minutes before giving way back to nature. Another Flaming Tune presents a minimalist piano arpeggio while buzzy, reedy electronics and clarinet hum and drone underneath and tapes and percussion stutter and start . Elsewhere Gareth and Mary sing harmonies and wonderful pop melodies particularly in the enchanting Beguiling the Hours, the song I’ve chosen to share.

Flaming Tunes-Beguiling the Hours
control-click to download

This song has long been one of my favorites. When I first got the bootleg CD, I’d listen to it over and over again. Probably second only to Pink Frost by the Chills in my list of “songs left on repeat”. The piano, the clapping, the clarinet and keyboards, the melodies, the lyrics, “think of the wealth…” part. I don’t know, it just kills me every time.

It’s really amazing that a release so obscure that even fans of the artist didn’t know it existed, or if they did, where it came from, has taken such a vibrant life in the last year. Gareth passed away in 2001 and it’s hard to separate the growing tributes to him from the growing interest, awareness, and passion about Flaming Tunes. First, there is the Flaming Tunes website, where you can find additional downloads, videos, old letters and input from various Flaming Tunes associates and friends. More information and ordering info can be found at Life and Living Records. It’s also on iTunes of course. There’s a great and informative interview with Mary as well as Andrew Jacques of These/Life and Living and Mick Hobbs, who was involved in the reissue and plays on the original tape, by The Wire. And as testament to it’s power, check out Diamond Age, a musician out of texas who recorded a complete cover version of the entire tape. It’s really wonderful, and can be ordered from Life and Living. Meanwhile, more material keeps turning up on the Flaming Tunes website, such as later recordings of Gareth’s and even videos, some shot then, some shot now, some shot then and finished now. This song, Nothing On, and it’s video, can be downloaded from the site, but it’s also on youtube, so I can more easily share it here…


next up…

There’s always been a great deal of mystery and debate regarding No Wave. How do you define No Wave? Which bands were No Wave? Is it limited to a specific location and time period or is it a timeless attitude and aesthetic? Do you hyphenate No-Wave? Do you capitalize it? For a long time everyone was sure of one thing, the four bands that appeared on No New York–Mars, DNA, The Contortions and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks–were No Wave.
But what about the so-called Soho bands? Theoretical Girls, The Gynecologists, Daily Life, The Static, A Band. And all that 99 records funk stuff…Liquid Liquid, ESG? Lesser known but more appropriate to be defined as such, was a group of bands who came up just after the initial years and continued to blaze raw and noisy paths in downtown New York through the early 80s. I’d first hear some of them on Elliott Sharp’s Peripheral Vision comp, a fantastic and ubiquitous record store staple in NY for much of the 90s. While many of these bands started out opening up for and playing shows with Mars and Lydia Lunch, their sound was less dark…more lo-fi and often political. Mofungo bassist Robert Sietsema said they were “the stepchildren of the first generation of no wave bands.” I’d come across the occasional Mofungo, The Scene is Now or V-Effect record but only heard whispers of TAPE #1, the self-released compilation cassette that came out in 1980 featuring songs by Blinding Headache, Information and Mofungo.

Blinding Headache was apparently first, forming as early as 1978 in the basement of an NYU dorm by Jim Posner, Willie Klein, Kym Bond and Rick Brown. Rick Brown would leave Blinding Headache and join Information, which featured Chris Nelson, Gary Larson and Phil Dray. The remains of Blinding Headache would be joined by others including Sietsema to form Mofungo. By 1980 they decided to put this tape together, and it’s a fascinating slice of a certain time, with some crossover and influence from the current no wave scenes and some amount of pointing at various sounds of New York City (and Hoboken) for the next decade or so. Information would eventually mutate into The Scene is Now, Rick Brown would play with the incredible V-Effect, followed by Timber, Fish & Roses, Run On, collaborations with Charles Hayward (see above), etc etc. Sietsema would find more fame as the Village Voice’s resident foodie, inspiring many a visit to Flushing,Queens while leaving me eager to find out if Sonali in Sunnyside is as good as he says, because they may deliver to me.

Tape #1 was still a holy grail to me when word first arrived that it would be getting a reissue as a digital only release on Anthology Recordings, a fantastic label with an eclectic selection of downloads to purchase. Currently, their website is down as they reconfigure some stuff, but I’m sure it’ll be back shortly. And if that wasn’t enough, the craziest thing happened. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks decided to do a reunion concert at the Knitting Factory and somebody had the brilliant idea of inviting Information to reform and open up. A band so obscure that their only release was on a 1980 tape compilation. I was there and as I’ve said elsewhere, Teenage Jesus was a blast, but Information blew them out of the water. I’ve suggested that they should get back together and in the least, record the set they played that night. I’ve decided to share 3 songs from the release…normally I wouldn’t share so much but the tape had 43 songs! So one from each band, including the most punk song from Information, which has already been released into the internets when Brian Turner of WFMU found Tape #1 and blogged about it. Check out his write-up, as it’s more interesting and informative than mine!

Information-Let’s Compromise
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Blinding Headache-Total Media Blackout
control-click to download

Mofungo-Out Of Line
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In an almost logical follow-up to discussion of Tape #1, we have another stepchild of No Wave in the band Interference. David Linton moved to New York City around the same time as his college friend and bandmate in The Flucts (Fluks?), Lee Ranaldo(still waiting to hear those tapes), and they both quickly fell in with the No Wave scene of the times. Lee would famously end up with Glenn Branca in his Ascension band, play in some of the early symphonies and end up in Sonic Youth. Linton on the other hand would play with that other proponent of guitar orchestras, Rhys Chatham. After leaving Chatham, Linton and Michael Brown would form Interference with Anne DeMarinis who had just left Sonic Youth, which Lee would then join. Music was recorded and was intended for release on Branca’s Neutral label, but it never happened. Finally a few years ago The Social Registry, one of New York’s finest record labels, announced they were going to release it, and after a gestation period almost as long as the typical Acute release, it’s finally coming out. It’s so cool, so NY, that when Rich from The Social Registry first played me the tape I said “you gotta let me release that, it’s such an Acute release!” But he turned me down, got to work, and now we’re finally hearing the whole thing.

Interference often sound exactly like what you’d expect them to sound like. The repetition and clanging guitars of the guitar orchestras and the punk rock energy and aggression of no wave. At times they sound more like Sonic Youth than Sonic Youth do on their first EP. Think about that! Oddly tuned guitars, gamelan sounding percussion, even a bit of Liquid Liquid funk at their noisiest. There’s a bit of vocals but even less conventional song structure then the typical Sonic Youth song of the period and at times they reach a tribal intensity of guitar skronk, no wave funk, minimalist repetition and sonic assault that I’ll be surprised if this release doesn’t see them added to that great canon of No Wave step-children already occupied by Mofungo, by Sonic Youth and the Swans. And Ut. For an interview with Linton, check out Too Cool To Die, check out Linton’s website, and for more information and to purchase this release, which will be a double LP featuring an LP of the original material and a fresh record of remixes, visit our friends at The Social Registry.

Interference-Excerpt #1(Version 2)
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and finally….

Here’s an obscure one that was totally new to me until a few weeks ago. I was checking out one of my favorite music blogs, Last Days of Man on Earth, excited to see the great review of the forthcoming Acute release, This Is Still It by The Method Actors when I noticed their following post. Last Day’s author Joe was excited to be reviewing a reissue/compilation from a post-punk/new wave band from his hometown St. Louis. I had no idea what to expect from that particular region from that particular time, but let me say I definitely didn’t expect a totally rocking, totally spacey, totally glam and totally sci-fi punk sound like this. For peers, I’d say 70s punk oddities like the Twinkeyz, the Fans and Chrome, american punk rock bands with a healthy fascination in all things cosmic and/or modern with a degree of a glam/euro/Eno/Roxy/Bowie going on. Relatively early Ultravox! would probably be a good reference as well, the sci-fi lyrics of John Foxx and synthesizers creating a futuristic atmosphere, underpinned by killer Stooges/Mick Ronson rock and roll. I was excited enough by the samples on the blog that I promptly ordered the album from BDR Records. The LP comes with a CD featuring even more tracks then are on the record, and it has an awesome cover that is right up my alley. Speaking of covers, they do a few, including the early Bowie song She’s Got Medals and Syd Barrett’s No Good Trying. The best cover since Cabaret Voltaire covered The Seeds? This release is one of those really obscure oddities that comes out of nowhere and makes you wonder how you lived so long without it.

control-click to download

That’s it for now. (that’s all??) Coming soon: catching up with Viva Radio and another Acute release, This Is Still It, by The Method Actors.

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