October 3, 2008

Naked City: "Grand Guignol".

Here's a favorite of mine from the archives; Naked City's 1992 release Grand Guignol.

Next time the devil comes around, don't challenge him with a fiddle - challenge him to a drum-off. The opening track to this daunting project, "Grand Guignol" sounds like the lord of the underworld versus some prospective initiate into the bowels of hell; all the while, a wind whispers in the background. The track suddenly explodes to life, in a colorful burst of cymbals, crunchy guitar slathered in overdrive and laden with a light tremolo a la Frisell, and a soft organ that seems as out of place as that flinch you can't seem to remove from your face. I know, it's abstract...but this is unconventional beauty we are witnessing here.

Soon, the whispered wind drones once again, followed by some timpany death knolls and (AAAGH!) another noisy outburst from a few possessed instruments. As is Zorn's way, you can expect another ten minutes of this. Zorn is notorious for his avant-jazz mastery, and a compulsive need to shock and bewilder the listener out of their brainwashed conceptions of what music truly is. You always learn something in a fight. You may learn that music can be the sum of all its equals and counterparts, contained within one lengthy movement; it isn't classical, and it's not rock - but those are some heavy riffs, and the sudden sparseness encasing a shrill saxophone cry off in the distance? It's one track, and why shouldn't it be? Just imagine a mad scientist in a laboratory, laughing maniacally and hunched over a white-sheeted creation, soon to unleash itself upon its unsuspecting victims; that's Zorn in the studio. You thought saxophonists were all cozily post-bop, huh?

Some sinister jazz takes over from here, and Frisell's gated guitar swell really dishes out the creep-factor. "Prophetiae Sybillarum" sees a chimey-synth beneath a jazzy Parisian saxophone melody. "The Cage" is a bit unsettling, if you imagine the walls closing in around you and think, "Is this really what I am going to die listening to?"

Luckily, "Louange à l'éternité de Jésus" is an enormously interesting listen, combining an oafy, clock-chime sounding chord progression with a crawling dissonant melody floating gently atop. It's as if something sinister is waiting around the corner, but both you and this sinister force keep looking around different corners at the same time, missing each other completely. This comedic light, once shed upon such a dark subject, serves a humiliatingly hilarious blow to the validity of evil itself.

Suddenly, Yamatsuka Eye erupts from beneath the sheet Zorn (the mad scientist) was laboring and chuckling over, a bug-eyed derelict with a fire hose for a trachea and more energy than the combined caffeine-highs of every paying customer at your local Starbucks. Some ridiculously harsh grind ensues, and Zorn's sax battles Frisell's guitar for "most uncharacteristically neurotic use of an instrumental piece". As is Zorn's way, the band travels through many different genres in one mind-numbing short track, sometimes ranging from noise rock, jazz and surf, usually spanning a mere thirty chaotic seconds. Prepare to listen numerous times - or allow yourself to become victimized. "The Prestidigitator" is especially intriguing - how many genres can you count? I counted about seven, even a couple seconds of showtune-esque musical arrangement! "Torture Garden" is another exceptionally brutal arrangement. "Sack of Shit" is probably my favorite of these short musical attacks. "Dead Dread" is interesting in its psychotic obscenity and strangled vocal rants. Really, Zorn is relentless and uncompromising, and just when you think it's all over, he unleashes "Speedfreaks" on your poor fractured psyche (at this point); Want to listen to every style of music all at once? Done, in just under a minute.

Zorn, his monster, and his cohorts all wish you pleasant dreams.

>>Link to my original review on rateyourmusic.com.
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