Glenn Branca

Songs '77-'79

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This is a collection of eight pieces from the three years before Branca's monumental album, The Ascension, wherein the listener can hear him laying the groundwork for his later concentration on massed electric guitars and overtones. Two bands are represented: the Static, a trio including Barbara Ess and Christine Hahn; and Theoretical Girls, a quartet with Jeffrey Lohn, Margaret DeWys, and Wharton Tiers. The two songs by the Static, both from 1979, point most clearly to Branca's future direction. Largely instrumental, with intensely strummed guitar riding over a pounding rhythm, they're only a step or two from compositions like "Light Field (In Consonance)" from The Ascension. Their sound may be likened to some of the so-called no-wave bands from the period (such as DNA), but Branca already showed a far greater preoccupation with a relatively strict structural framework and a special fascination with the overtones produced by oddly tuned guitars.

The earlier pieces, under the Theoretical Girls byline, are a mixed bunch. More ragged and more overtly adhering to a rock format, they fit into the noisy, punk milieu of the time as inhabited by the Contortions but, in songs like "You," they also show the possible influence of English art rock bands like Henry Cow. Happily, Branca discarded vocals within a few years, as his singing leaves something to be desired and his lyrics might best be described as "unfortunate."

For admirers of his later symphonies, this collection is certainly valuable for providing a glimpse of the environment from which he grew as well as several of his ideas in nascent form. Taken on their own, several of the pieces offer rewarding listening while others are of only historical value.

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