Saturday, May 29, 2004

Doctor Nerve Armed Observation Cuneiform Records (1987) - During the mid-80s (84-88) I lived in Baltimore and had two of the coolest neighbors. She was a professional massuese and part-time DJ and he was an engineer who as it turned out lived in the same dormitory as I did at Va. Tech in 1980. They were prog-rock hippies and had integrated into that local music scene. Their friends included the rock critic for the Baltimore Sun, several WJHU DJs (back when they were an independent) and the guy who runs Wayside Music and Cuneiform Records, still both touchpoints for avant-prog-jazz-rock fans. I am hazy on his name -- but I think it was Steve, normal, nondescript guy with glasses, beard, spindly white legs. As the resident punk, their parties were always a good time to get into conversations about music. Steve and I particularly got into it -- me arguing for Sonic Youth, Lou Reed being just as valid in terms of "art" as the more formal (mostly Euro) avant-rock that he digged. He recommended Doctor Nerve as his response to the whole punk thing and I got a copy of his catalog and bought it at a reduced price (it's a cut-out with a hole drilled in the upper right hand corner). I continued to subscribe to Wayside music's excellent and informative catalog for years to come.

Doctor Nerve is an ensemble led by Nick Didkovsky, a Czech immigrant who plays guitar and composes most of the music. The band includes drummer, reeds (contra-bass and soprano sax), trumpet, keyboards and electric bass -- all accomplished in their own right.

Armed Observation is Nick's second album with this ensemble. Its mostly a frantic-pace blip/blap/beep...bop type jazz with a few contemplative pieces thrown in for measure. Some of it just leaves me cold as it seems to be just a conversation among NYC jazzers (indeed "Keine Jazz Platte" and "Portland Applauds the Radio" are literally that!) or weak stuff made up to fill out the album such as "Three Curiously Insubstantial Duets." There are punk influences -- check out the wall-kicking rhythms in parts of "Out to Bomb Fresh Kings." But there are plenty more funk and latin and other influences -- listen to the bass line in "Sister Cancer Brother Dollar" and the Baretta-theme-song-like animal noises at the beginning of this track. Experimentation is rampant -- Didkovsky plays with things like the little known tiple and ambient sounds.

But there is a "punk" feel to what he is doing -- the back cover of the album features a picture of a J.R. Dobbs like suburban man surveying his kingdom as his pretty June Cleaver wife looks on adoringly -- such a picture could have graced any number of Toxic Shock records in the '80s. It seems like (and this goes back to the conversation among jazzers) that Didkovsky is trying to challenge the establishment to adopt a harder and noisier edge and copy the fierce independence then prevalent in indy music. Musically, Didkovsky's guitar plays with feedback, differing levels of distortion and the aforementioned straight-ahead rhythms but he can almost playfully just turn on a dime (something that the indy music of the time rarely did). Listen how "Sister Cancer Brother Dollar"'s guitar solo subtly turns into distorted laughter at about 2:00 minutes into the cut or how "Out to Bomb" shifts back and forth in syncopation.

You can hear the clicks in "Sister Cancer Brother Dollar", so this is no pristine LP. Over all I would rate it G+, maybe VG -- there's no skips or any other problems, just some surface noise on a few tracks. You would be much better off buying the CD from cuneiform as it combines Armed Observation with their first LP (Out to Bomb Fresh Kings). Wayside and cuneiform have a great selection if this is your bag and of course support the independent guy whenever you can.

These cuts will be up for next seven days:

Out to Bomb Fresh Kings
Sister Cancer Brother Dollar

Fine print: All cuts are claimed under the fair use act (see link to the right) in the interest of criticism and education -- original copyright and all rights belongs to the artist and label.

Of course, if the artist or label objects, I will gladly take them down immediately (email to the right).

Let me know if you have any problems downloading as I am experimenting right now.

((picture swiped from

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