Saturday, November 12, 2005

MX-80: Crowd Control

Ralph Records, 1981

MX-80 are one of the oldest independent rock misfit collectives out there - members have been playing as MX-80 and various other bands and solo releases for 31 years and counting. When they started in 1974, metal as a genre was wide open - too bad for us that it was subsumed by corny blowhard cockrockers and ponsy pseudo-satanist scam artists and set back decades in the process. These guys, though, continued to faithfully work the genre as if they were unaware or uncaring about what all was going on. Thankfully, record labels like Ralph indulged their creativity (and even paid them for it!). It seems the band's basic philosophy was to play whatever they thought was cool and damn the commercial aspects (they had a brief and rocky flirtation with Island Records in the '70s). This has led to three records that have more than withstood the test of time and still make it to people's best of lists and all-time great records. Crowd Control was the third in this progression. Like it's predecessors, it uninhibitedly explores and force fits metal with psychedelic, free jazz and progressive rock. Where it can't find any signposts, it invented its own style -- such as an early doom rock ("Face of the Earth") and even a stab at atmospheric metal ("Obsessive Devotion" - which has a Sonic Youth-like odd guitar tuning).

Although you could argue for Mission of Burma being a peer to MX-80, they came on a little too late and MX-80 was already in hiatus when Burma was just a start-up. The only other bands then are Henry Cow and Discipline-era King Crimson - but they had a detached classicist style. MX-80 instead played with soul and verve wanting to be more remembered as inheritors to Albert Ayler and his ilk than classical composers or master musicians. The band is the first to admit that they weren't skilled technicians during this era (they grew up in the same town with proto-punks The Gizmos). Bruce Anderson said he created an environment "where people's inexpertise was not as important as what they could do with it and how they could facilitate their imaginations with the mistakes" (quoted from 1991 Forced Exposure interview). He also put them on a grueling practice schedule and charged 10 bucks for every mistake until they got it right. At one point, they had two drummers so they could each cover up each other's mistakes. . .

Put this record on and the 11-song Crowd Control bounces all about the room from cut to cut although the guitar basically stays the same, sludgey and like it was pulled out of some dark street corner and rubbed around on the macadam a bit. This record never seems to quit rewarding the listener and tracks you previously discount release their secrets only over time. Sometimes I swear that new tracks are being laid down magically and songs get re-arranged by some sort of trickster postergiest (and I've been drug-free since '93). Among my favorites are the opener "Face of the Earth" where David Mahoney lays down a free jazz drum beat and Anderson/Sophiea assemble a doom and gloom bass-guitar line while Stim off-handedly rants about the insignificance to man and his monkey cousins. One of the memorable things in this record is the vocal experimentation. From Rich Stim's sonambulent spoken word in "Night Rider" (riding on top of a out of control free jam) to the Gregorian Monks in Hell intoning "Why Are We Here?", we can get an idea where Hank Rollins stole some of his best song ideas in the latter part of his recording career. And while Rich Stim has taken some criticism for his singing, he redeems himself somewhat in the most punk (and pop) song here "More Than Good" - it's also the closest they come to a head banger. He's said his vocal here is Lou Reed and that's more than evident here. Also of note are "City of Fools", a send-up of Hollywood (and an excuse for some great Anderson work) and the closing song "Promise of Love" which surprisingly sounds like something Naranda Walden wrote on the back of a Burger King wrapper during the Jeff Beck Wired sessions and Stim and Anderson stole when he wasn't looking. They add tasteful vocals and Anderson minimalizes the Beckian showboating. Alas for us, Rich Stim pulls out his sax for only one song, "Pharoah's Sneakers" near the end of the album but its worth the wait.

  • Bruce Anderson - guitar, background vox
  • Dale Sophiea - bass, background vox
  • David Mahoney - drums
  • Rich Stim - vocals, rhythm guitar, sax

Sample Songs up for a short period:
"More Than Good"
"City of Fools"



Anonymous said...

O, you made me so happy. I have loved MX-80 Sound ever since Out of the Tunnel, and I often get "More than Good" stuck in my head.

Hey, you got noticed in Italy:

Be good! -- jonhope

Scott Soriano said...

This is a great record. I've had it since the early 80s and it has survived many a purge. I am glad you chose More than Good. It is a great song. And these guys are great to listen to while drunk.

Katie "The Intern" said...


Another Scott said...

Alas for us, Rich Stim pulls out his sax for only one song, "Pharoah's Sneakers" near the end of the album but its worth the wait.

In fact, Rich's sax appears on three tracks, the other two being "Promise of Love" and the title cut.

Oh, and that's not really free-jazz drumming on "Face of the Earth" - it's got a definite time signature, albeit a weird one, 9/8 or something.

Aside from that, great essay!