Lesson No. 1 was Glenn Branca's first release as a composer. Originally issued as a 12" EP, or mini-album, it featured two tracks, the beautiful and accessible title track -- composed as a response to listening to Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," and the frenetically assaultive "Dissonance," which has lost none of its power. The players on this date were organist Anthony Coleman, drummer Stephen Wischerth, F.L.Schroder on bass, Branca and Michael Gross on guitars and, on the latter track, Harry Spitz on Sledgehammer. This compact disc reissue on Acute contains "Bad Smells," an unreleased track from the Ascension sessions that came two years later. The band here features five guitarists: Branca, David Rosenbloom, Ned Sublette, Lee Ranaldo, and Thurston Moore, as well as bassist Jeffrey Glenn and Wischerth. There is also a QuickTime video movie of "Symphony No. 5" included. One of the most compelling things about this release is how fully developed Branca's ideas were even at this early juncture. His micro- and over-tonal notions as overlooked visceral elements in rock & roll prove worthy mettle here, and even on "Dissonance" with its catharsis and knotty harmonics, rock & roll is never far from the fore in his method. "Bad Smells" has a different, more complex dynamic, especially from the outset, but the sense of urgency is there, along with the shimmering, barely hidden melodic frames that keep the entire thing evolving on the axis of its pulse. Guitarist Alan Licht provides a fine critical history and appreciation in his liner notes, making for a historically relevant package. But in spite of its obvious contribution not only to vanguard music, but to Sonic Youth's sound, the music here is actually pleasant and compelling to listen to, and does not sound like a relic out of time and space, or a curiosity piece from long ago. Lesson No. 1 is a powerful, wrenching, transcendent piece of rock guitar classicism that, if there is any justice, will get a wider and more appreciative hearing in the new century.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek