No New York

Various Artists

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No New York Review

by Todd Kristel

After seeing a series of benefit shows held for the Artist's Space in Soho, producer Brian Eno convinced Island Records to release an anthology album featuring several bands from New York's experimental no wave scene of the late 1970s. He reportedly considered ten groups for the album: the Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars, DNA, Theoretical Girls with Glenn Branca, the Gynecologists with Rudolph Grey, Tone Death with Rhys Chatahm, Boris Police Band, who used police radio calls for vocals, Red Transistor, and Terminal. The final album, however, featured four bands performing four songs each and was released on Antilles, a sub-label of Island. The first band on the album, the Contortions, play dissonant funk-punk that melds Albert Ayler, the Stooges, and James Brown with shouted vocals, slashing guitar solos, open-tuned slide guitar chords, hammered Acetone organ, steady basslines, and soul-influenced drumming. All four of their selections are strong, including "Flip Your Face," which Steve Albini once cited as his all-time favorite song. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, a group of art and music hangers-on led by songwriter/vocalist Lydia Lunch, is perhaps the least accessible band on the album; the squalling, droning, abrasive way that Lunch and her bandmates put across lyrics such as "personality down the drain/after all who needs a brain" and "the dishes are cracked/the forks are plastic/the food is in cellophane/I puke elastic" makes it unclear if she is baring the darkest corners of her soul or trying to put one over on the audience. Mars creates interesting music out of apparent chaos; the vocals are babbled and the guitars, bass and drums sound like they're weaving in and out of the song while going in several different directions at once, yet the band is oddly compelling in its crazed, cacophonous way. The fourth band, D.N.A., features Arto Lindsay's bluesy vocals and seemingly uncontrolled bursts of guitar, as he rakes his strings and refuses to play conventional chords; the trio, which also includes keyboardist Robin Crutchfield and drummer Ikue Ile, create the most engaging music in the collection other than the opening numbers by the Contortions. Some listeners may be fascinated by the music on No New York while others may find it unbearable; in either case, this seminal album remains the definitive document of New York's no wave movement.

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