The two-CD collection When All Else Fails gathers together three different recordings by Swiss trio 16\17: 1984's Hardcore & Buffbunker (disc one, tracks 8-12), 1987's 16\17 (disc one, tracks 1-7), and 1989's When All Else Fails (disc two). The sound and style of these recordings does not differ drastically from one to the next. The constant elements are Alex Buess' harsh, shrieking alto saxophone and Knut Remond's propulsive drumming. Markus Kneubühler plays guitar on most tracks, with his contributions ranging from repetitive, bass guitar-like lines on the Hardcore & Buffbunker tracks to a more abrasive or percussive "skronk" approach on many of the others. There are a few tracks that stand out as being different, including the sparse "Buffbunker IV," which is based on a slow, repeating bass guitar figure that cycles around and around (with slight variations) for seven-plus minutes, with Kneubühler adding eerie keyboard touches. Meanwhile, "Watch!" is a bit of free-floating improv with some industrial sound effects working their way into the mix behind Buess' saxophone. Buess also takes the microphone for some off-the-cuff vocals now and then. In general, though, the formula is pretty simple: maniacal drumming, noisy guitar, and paint-peeling saxophone steamrolling ahead for three to five minutes at a time -- then rinse and repeat. It's worth noting that much of this music could have been released on a noise-heavy label like, say, Load or Skin Graft in 2002 and sounded completely up to the minute. The fact that most of it was already in the can 15 or more years before then is pretty remarkable. In any case, this double-disc set is not for sensitive ears, but it offers a good sinus-clearing blast for those with hardier constitutions.
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AllMusic Review by William York