X_X, Rays, Musk
Led by the guitarist John D Morton, X__X was a spiritual heir to Mr. Mortons more infamous group, the Electric Eels, whose unruly noise and penchant for mayhem provided inspiration for future punks, despite playing only five shows during their existence from 1972 to 1975 and never seeing the inside of a proper recording studio.
When I eventually heard it, Adult Books turned out to be rather conventional. The record Id brought home, on the other hand, was wild: Its atonal droning, lurching rhythms, skronky guitars and snarling vocals suggested a Midwestern cousin to New Yorks no wave movement. This was literally art-punk: The X__X singles A-side, entitled A, was about getting cancer from making sculptures with polyester resin. The band photo, a fake, was actually an image of Mr. Mortons punk performance-art project (the name of which, like many of Mr. Mortons pronouncements, cannot be repeated here) that lip-synced to a recorded soundtrack and mimed playing their instruments. Mr. Morton deliberately put different years on the sleeve, much as he had written the credits for the Electric Eels first single in pidgin German, leading some to believe they hailed from Europe, not Cleveland.
Just having fun, Mr. Morton said recently over coffee at a Brooklyn bakery, when asked about the confusion such misinformation might create. Why not provoke?
This artistic antagonism, inspired by an affinity for the Dadaist movement, has been at the heart of Mr. Mortons work both as a musician and a visual artist for the better part of four decades. He has remained a relatively obscure figure. But back in the early 1970s, with only the Stooges and the Velvet Underground as role models, he and his colleagues turned their youthful alienation into a brazenly experimental, loudly confrontational and proudly antisocial roar that forged a new and distinct style. Despite their limited discography, the Electric Eels are cited repeatedly in underground rock histories as having provided a spiritual beacon, if not actually a seminal role, in the evolution of punk. Without the benefit of an actual scene or clubs, specialized labels or built-in booster groups, they defined the conventions of noise rock. Today, with punk rock a staple of the pop mainstream, the defiance of Mr. Morton and his band mates, in the face of almost total antipathy, remains a benchmark for anyone hoping to express their rebelliousness by plugging in a guitar.
The Electric Eels were doing stuff that was punk and beyond punk before punk had even started, the British author Jon Savage said. They prefigure punk, but in many ways theyre more sophisticated and more intense and funnier. You never quite know where you are with them because of Johns relentless black humor.
After a lengthy disappearance from music to focus on art and health issues, Mr. Morton has seen in the last year a rediscovery of his recorded legacy. In late 2013, both the Electric Eels and X__Xs debut singles were included on a compilation by the British label Soul Jazz. In March, X__Xs two singles were collected for the first time, along with previously unreleased 1978 live recordings and practice tapes, on the compilation X Sticky Fingers X released by the Finnish label Ektro/Full Contract. (In July, the Florida label Smog Veil released a digital version.) Last week, the Superior Viaduct archival label released Die Electric Eels, a compilation of 1975 recordings.
The X__X collection prompted Mr. Morton to reunite with members of that band and tour. New York Times
X_X band photo: By Carla MacDonald
On RAYS debut album the band spins eleven tunes of wiry, urgent post-punk,one foot planted firmly in the nihilistic apathy of 70 & 80s punk (Wire, Electric Eels, Pere Ubu, Eno, Television The Fall), Australian punk past & present (UV Race, Terry, Victims, Babeez), and the addictive strum of 80s & 90s New Zealand/Flying Nun pop; all of whom have found their own way to meld the ferocity & thuggery of punk with a singular melodic voice. RAYS are no different; the swirling jangle of Attic starts the album off, sardonically extolling the joy of attic life with Hannans monotone conveying an underlying sense of dread & isolation. Dead Mans Curve, with its hook-filled, organ-laden chorus plays like a lost teenage tragedy song, celebrating the desperation & angst of reckless youth. Elsewhere, tunes like Theatre of Lunacy, Made of Shadows & Drop Dead rage with a desperate fire, speaking to the absurdities of everyday life, but with a wry smile. Shit is fucked, but the members of RAYS seem intent on finding humor within the worlds everyday desperation, because sometimes thats the only way to stay sane.
"MUSK is an anomaly. Its knuckle dragging, saturated dirges are the uncalculated, pure expression of spite and frustration. Go ahead, think mid-70s Ohio filtered through Australia a few years later...Formed with an unabashed allegiance to agitation, both of their own and listeners, MUSK is antithetical to its Bay Area contemporaries - Sam Lefebvre, Degenerate
"...a Scientists-infused dip into the swamp...the only band even close to the scree they unleash is 'Sicko Inside Me' era Necessary Evils mixed with a bit of the first Horrors LP and dare I even say some of the nastier Hunches efforts. Absolutely ferocious guitar sound that's going to have some people jealous. - -Rich Kroneiss, Terminal Boredom
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