Semantics was a short-lived and occasionally thrilling trio who patrolled downtown New York City in the mid-'80s. They were composed of three of the shining lights of that community and combined a free jazz explorative intensity with a punk rock rigor and directness. The potential of the group is wonderfully captured on the opener, "Terra Firma": a complex and funky rhythmic pattern is laid down by Ned Rothenberg and Samm Bennett, one that's luscious enough to go on forever. Just as the listener is settling back to wallow for the duration, Elliott Sharp explodes into the work with splintered shards of guitar noise not only altering the piece for good, but lifting it into another conceptual level. Much of the rest of the album treads a similar line, walking a tense balance between choppy, propulsive rhythms and the free excursions of Sharp and Rothenberg. Even if one of the pieces wasn't called "Vliet's Van," the influence of Captain Beefheart would have been clearly heard, though, of the trio, the music most closely resembles Sharp's at the time, especially with his group Carbon. His ringing, against-the-grain chords are one of the signature sounds of that era and are present in abundance here. Happily, although Bennett occasionally uses a drum machine, none of the hollow sounds of those devices -- which infected many a session from that scene at the time -- are present on this recording. Semantics would go on to record another album, Bone of Contention, but their debut captures the trio at their most powerful and imaginative. Recommended.
AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick