I am not a huge fan of the avant-garde. I pick and choose things out the hyper-experimental that tweak my ear, but for a short period in the mid 90's... I was totally hooked on listening to very challenging music from a variety of artists. It so happens that two of these albums that remained favorites of mine over the years found themselves next to each other on my list, so it will be fitting that I approach them simultaneously. Both of these albums, while released in the 90's, have their roots in the NYC No Wave movement of the late 70's and early 80's. To offer an oversimplified description for the uninitiated, it was a vast (if brief) and diverse sub-genre of the burgeoning Lower East Side punk scene which revelled in a complete disregard for any convention of rock music (verse-chorus, sensical lyrics, rhythm, melody), instead exploring sound-scapes of tonal distortion, harmonics, feedback and just about anything else you could imagine. If rhythm was present at all, it was anything other than rock's 4/4 backbeat, plumbing the depths of other pop and traditional rhythms (tribal, funk, jazz, disco). If you want to do some history reading/listening, check-out Glenn Branca, Yoko Ono, The Golden Palominos, Lydia Lunch, Bill Laswell, and early Sonic Youth recordings for starters.
The afore mentioned Bill Laswell lies at the heart of this avant-garde supergroup, providing its vision and direction. For this band, Laswell assembled two ex-P-Funk Allstars (Bernie Worrell on keys and Bootsy Collins on bass), a former Jungle Brothers turntablist (Afrika Baby Bam), an exceptional drummer from the little known white-boy funk group Limbomaniacs (Brain), and a mysterious, undiscovered guitar virtuoso known only as Buckethead. The result is a bottom-heavy fusion of funk, hardcore, dub, hip-hop, metal, and ambient. The first three tracks contain double-titled songs, to clue you to the fusion afoot. "Blast War/Machine Dub" opens the album with nasty speed riffs layered with breakneck metal appreggios and Worrell's progrock-esque organ then slips into a slow meandering dub rhythm with ambient guitar textures. "Interface/Stimulation Loop" proceeds to reverse the process, first opening with a mid-tempo hardrock riff which falls apart into a bit of ambient squeaks before blowing ahead full steam into the funkiest shake-that-ass jam barely kept on the rails by the twin bass slapping of Bootsy and Laswell. The final offering in this trinity is "Crash Victim/Black Science Navigator" which opens with a mid-tempo hard funk before coming completely unhinged with keyboard twiddling/guitar noodling approximating the sound of R2D2 on a coke binge. The track closes out with some scratch and sample wizardry on the turntables. Altogether, the first three tracks set you up for the general tone and pace of the album and now you can settle in for the rest of the ride. It's as good a three songs to open an album has ever been recorded and sequenced. The production is immaculate on this album, particularly with regard to the drums. The guitar tone sometimes has that sterile Vai/Malmsteen quality to it, but Buckethead's technique is astonishing at times and stands in sharp contrast to guitar style, technique, and recording production of the era (grunge, alt-rock, etc). This is a fantastic album by any measure and one well worth checking out if you're looking for something a little off the beaten path
The fact that they are on Skin Graft should be enough to clue one in on what is in store with Space Streakings. Skin Graft coined a term for their stable of bands, referring to the tradition they grew out of - "Now Wave". But if that's not enough, let's take a look at the band's lineup:
Screaming Stomach - Vocals, Guitar, Trumpet, Kazooka
Captain Insect - Bass, Voice, Programming
Karate Condor - DiscoAttacker, DragonballZ, Voice
Kame Bazooka - Vocals, Alto Saxophone, Bazookahorn
And just what is a bazookahorn? I'm glad you asked:
Lore has it that Space Streakings was formed by a bunch of bored, Japanese video programmers who were intrigued by emerging technology as well as just plain weird ideas for creating brand new instruments and incorporating them with more conventional ones to create a dense, sonically challenging sound.
If you're familiar with the Japanese artrock noise of bands like the Boredoms, Zeni Geva, and Melt Banana, then you're already ahead of the game. Where Space Streakings differ from these bands is the way they approach their particular brand of noise. For one, it is incredibly fast and secondly, it's actually quite catchy at times.... in a weird, other-worldly sort of way. Their music lies more in disco, hip-hop, soul/r&b, and electronica than it does in rock. Underlying all of the zanieness is a serious attention to the detail of making grooves, albeit very fast ones.
Over the course of their brief history they released a couple of albums and completely wrecked small venues with their manic live shows.
7-Toku was their first full length album and, in my mind anyway, blows away any album made by their peers. That said, it is not a very accessible album for the uninitiated and can be hard to digest, but once you do and get into the nuances that abound, it makes for a very enjoyable listen in its entirety and yields new discoveries with repeated listening. That for me is the real joy of listening to music made by the likes of Praxis and Space Streakings - you can return to them years later and its like hearing it for the first time all over again.
98. Thank Heaven For Little Girls - The Dwarves
99. The Blue Hearts - The Blue Hearts
100. Hustler's Convention - Lightnin' Rod