Glenn Branca - Lesson No. 1
Is this the beginning of post-rock? For many, Glenn Branca might be just a brief side note in the early history of Sonic Youth. Yes, Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo did have a brief stint in the band / orchestra but Branca is important in his own right. He was a key figure in the development of New York post-punk, art-rock or what has become to be known as no-wave. However, Branca was still on his own island even within the context of the brutal and minimal sound of bands like DNA, Teenage Jesus And The Jerks and MARS.
Branca’s first mode of expression was theater having put together experimental works in Boston before moving to New York in 1976. He began taking interest in music after some time in the Rhys Chatham band and shortly thereafter he formed The Static and then Theoretical Girls. These bands did utilize the spirit of punk rock but Branca was able to inject a dissonant tone and a schizophrenic ability to transcend the forms just assembled a few years earlier. Following his bands’ quick dissillusion, Branca repurposed the energy and anarchistic wash of no-wave into something entirely different. He sought to transcend yet again and for his next project, minimal drone would be his new methodology coming from the spirit of the modern composer. The electric guitar would be the focus and he would make it sound like nothing else, especially at a time when most people were still catching up to punk rock.
Originally released on the great 99 Records, Lesson No. 1 is Branca’s first recording under his own name and it showcases 2 sidelong pieces, (“Lesson No. 1 For Electric Guitar” and “Dissonance”) populated by Glenn Branca’s endless guitar tone. Both cosmic and chaotic, Branca utilizes harsh, diminished chords while the band locks into a militaristic groove driven by Stephen Wischerth’s incredible drumming and Anthony Coleman’s omnipresent organs building the stunning structure around it all. “Dissonance” adds in even more noise with an actual sledgehammer making its way onto the tape. These pieces are ESSENTIAL because Branca reinvented the guitar contextually while completely ignoring the art his peers were making.
Superior Viaducts’ reissue includes a very worthy bonus. “Bad Smells” is a 16-minute piece in differing movements featuring Branca’s new guitar orchestra that would be the basic lineup to record his first LP, The Ascension. Along with Wischerth on drums, Branca added Ned Sublette, David Rosenbloom and two new guitarists just getting their start, Sonic Youth's Moore and Ranaldo. With five guitars in tow, Branca’s band would explore drone but with an even greater cosmic brilliance while adding in sharp stabs of atonal noise.
Glenn Branca would continue to write guitar pieces for orchestra throughout the 80s while exploring the avant-garde. But Lesson No. 1 is the piece that sets the standard. Homework time! (Dom)
Check out a track here.