Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe
As I wrote in my Critic’s Choice for drummer and former Chicagoan Weasel Walter, who plays Friday night at Enemy and Tuesday night at Elastic, he’s been churning out recordings since he moved to Oakland in 2003, especially in the past few years. He dials down his usual frenzied energy on the brand-new Last Distractions (Singlespeed) with reedist Aram Shelton (another former Chicagoan) and cornetist Josh Berman, and he’s part of an unlikely meeting with drummer Grant Calvin Weston—a longtime cohort of James Blood Ulmer—on last year’s Nassira (Amulet). He’s also put out several albums via his own UgExplode imprint—which he’s been running since his Chicago days—where he plays with folks like Mary Halvorson, Peter Evans, Greg Kelley, and Marc Edwards. He also recently released a knockout archival dig of music by no wave combo the Toy Killers (pictured), The Unlistenable Years.
Back in the 90s Walter was serious about his love for New York no wave; he became an expert on that volatile scene (he maintains a no wave photo archive to this day) and chronicled, supported, and participated in the weird, spazzy art-rock revival he called Chicago No Wave. (He led the Flying Luttenbachers and played in Lake of Dracula; other leading bands of the era included Scissor Girls and Math.) The Unlistenable Years collects tracks cut between 1980 and 1984 by the duo of drummer Charles K. Noyes and noisemaker and vocalist M.E. Miller, with help from the likes of Arto Lindsay, John Zorn, Nicky Skopelitis, and Wayne Horvitz. The music almost makes the stuff on the seminal Brian Eno-produced No New York compilation (DNA, the Contortions, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, Mars) sound quaint.
I don’t find it unlistenable in the slightest, but this is some seriously damaged shit. Noyes and Miller are true sonic anarchists, pounding out lacerating, fractured rhythms that sound like they might draw blood if you get too close to the speakers. Goaded by insane vocals from Miller, Lindsay, Aline Lilly Mayer, and Thi-Linh Le—one of several artists in the Toy Killers’ orbit who went on to play in the earliest and best incarnation of the Golden Palominos—the sounds lurch violently between stop-start spasms, unholy pileups, and barrages of pure noise. Prior to this CD only two tracks by the band had ever been released: “Victimless Crime,” which featured Lindsay furiously and incoherently spitting out lyrics by downtown poet Susie Timmons, appeared on the long-out-of-print 1983 compilation Speed Trials (Homestead), which also included early work from contemporaries like Sonic Youth, Live Skull, Swans, and, um, the Beastie Boys. Another later track, “At Home,” which is not on the UgExplode disc, turned up on the 1987 compilation Island of Sanity (No Man’s Land).
A little more than a third of The Unlistenable Years is given over to long, untitled improvisations—squealing saxophone by Zorn helps the first one especially stay interesting—but it’s the concise “songs” that are really worth the price of admission. The band has been playing again recently, including a gig last month in San Francisco, but I’d be shocked if anything they're doing now can touch this. I have no idea how much more primo stuff from the original no wave era is sitting in someone’s closet or basement, but if such material does exist it’s a good bet Walter will have a hand in getting it heard.
Mats Gustafsson & Yoshimi, Words on the Floor (Smalltown Superjazz)
Joe Lovano Us Five, Folk Art (Blue Note)
Hakim, Kolo Yoross (EMI Arabia)
Buddy De Franco Quartet, Mr. Clarinet (Verve)
Kinks, Face to Face (Sanctuary)