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Frequently name-checked as one of the most influential works of postmodern composition, Glenn Branca's Lesson No. 1 is nothing less than a completely successful amalgam of avant-garde composition techniques with dissonant post-punk rock n' roll. Glenn Branca had previously been part of the brief No Wave scene with his band Theoretical Girls, and several other solo and group projects, but this short album was his first commercially released recording. When 99 Records originally released the album in 1980, it was clear that it was not without precedent; following as it did in a clear line of evolution from LaMonte Young and Terry Riley. But Branca's use of rock n' roll instrumentation, heavy duty percussion, unorthodox guitar tunings and over-amplifications and minimalist repetition makes "Lesson No. 1 For Electric Guitar" an essential influence on all of the avant-garde rock music that has come since. The eight-plus minutes of the title track are absolute perfection: a glossy, propulsive patchwork of chiming electric guitars, hypnotically riffing on three chords, ascending and descending, falling in and out of sync beautifully. Its simplicity and power recalls Terry Riley's majestic synthesizer classic "A Rainbow in Curved Air," even as its trance-inducing, minor-chord refrain unmistakably evokes vintage Joy Division, apparently a notable influence on Branca in the early 80's, if I am to believe the erudite liner notes by Alan Licht. "Lesson No. 1" is ground zero for all of the avant-leaning rock music that came after, clearly influencing Sonic Youth ("Expressway To Yr Skull"), Boredoms (Vision Creation Newsun) and even Acid Mothers Temple, who attempted their own merging of Terry Riley and [acid] rock with their cover of "In C." Following from "Lesson No. 1" is "Dissonance," certainly less accessible, but no less masterful, a chaotic mass of overdubbed guitar shredding, complex drumming (periodically punctuated by the metallic clink of a sledgehammer) and an insistent sense of drama, continuously building but never finding its full catharsis. "Bad Smells" is the third and final track, a 16-minute rock epic originally released on the flip side of John Giorno LP released on the Giorno Poetry Systems label during the same time period as Branca's Ascension. Originally composed for a Twyla Tharp dance performance, the musicians include, among others, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore (soon of the aforementioned Sonic Youth). The track unfolds in several different "movements," opening with galloping beats and heroic guitar melodies, then quickly transforming into an angular punk-funk jam, before taking a sharp left turn into high dissonance and stop-start, No Wave-style spastics. Also included on the disc is a fascinating Quicktime video of Glenn Branca conducting his "Symphony No. 5," shot in 1984. It's quite a possessed performance, Branca casting himself as the physical conduit of the music, jumping and thrashing around with wild abandon, expressing the music's intensity. Acute Records has done a good job re-issuing Lesson No. 1, solidifying its place among the most influential rock albums of all time. 


Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 August 2005 15:05  


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