Glenn Branca
Lesson No.1
/99 records; 1980 - re: acute; 2004/



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Now it's really hot. I'm not going to complain, mind you. I feel like something good could happen, and this possibility is much more than i need to feel good. 

I received the reissue of Glenn Branca's Lesson No.1 a couple of weeks ago and i instantly enjoyed it. I was a bit frightened, because some of his symphonies sound a bit hermetic to me, but it turned out that his earlier work is impressive. 

Lesson No.1 was Branca's first release, a 12" single featuring "Lesson No.1 for Electric Guitar" and "Dissonance". This reissue also features "Bad Smells," the soundtrack to a Twyla Tharp dance, originally released on a split release with poet and spoken word artist John Giorno in 1982. This reissue also features a video of a live performance of "Symphony No.5" shot in 1984. 

"Lesson No.1 for Electric Guitar" is impressive. I like this piece a lot, and the relatively small band (in comparison to his Symphonies' line-ups) features two guitars, a bass guitar, an organ and drums. Riffs intertwine and suddenly the bass kicks in and everything grows a bit wilder. It reminds me of Television and foreshadows Sonic Youth and the whole NYC no wave scene. Branca was deep into Joy Division at the time, and you can hear it in this piece, with steady drums and bass and epic, oppressive guitars intertwined with a minimalist organ. It's an 8 minutes long crescendo, a blueprint for all the Sonic Youths, Mogwa´s and GYBEs to come.

"Dissonance" sounds, well, a bit more dissonant. Bells, panzer drums and repetitive riffs create a haunting, oppressive atmosphere. It's not as melodic as "Lesson No.1 for Electric Guitar", but it's easily as impressive. It's structure is somehow looser, its speed fluctuates throughout and as a result it sounds less "poppy" (ok, hit me) than it's original 12" buddy. There again the influence of Factory bands can be heard, it's as cold as Russian blizzard and, well, quite dark.     

"Bad Smells" features Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. It's a soundtrack to something i have never seen, so i can only speak about it out of context. There again repetition is the key. A mean bass riff leads the band, oppressive (i know, i have counted) drums sound like horses running, or a machine that goes fast and sounds like horses running, guitars make steel noise that sound like an old train whistle. Then things change a bit, the bass plays something more minimalistic (the drums stick to the horses thing though), and the crescendo can start. Release, then things grow a bit calmer, cymbals and guitars and ouch, it's "Dissonance" all over again, mean and ferocious, with violent, tribal drums and repetitive motifs. Things grow a bit more industrial, with guitars accompanying drums with steel sound and feedback.  

My computer is getting really tired so didn't get a chance to watch the Symphony No.5 video, but i bet it's nice. 

This record is a precious document, one of the keys the whole post punk / no wave scene.

-Barbara H

/june 1st 2004/