CD Review

Unknown Instructors, The Masters Voice (Smog Veil)

Unknown Instructors are an avant-jazz/punk improv outfit consisting of various legends of the SST "Electric Church" diaspora (see Joe Carducci's book Rock and the Pop Narcotic for illumination). Playing on The Master's Voice are Joe Baiza, guitarist of the legendary Saccharine Trust; Mike Watt and George Hurley, thud doctors of Minutemen and fIREHOSE; and rotating vocalists Dan McGuire (whose band this seems to be, if it is anyone's), Raymond Pettibon (Black Flag's Minister of Propaganda, visual artist and musician) and Pere Ubu's David Thomas. The music here is the voice of a dying West Coast tradition of damaged beat/Catholic nihilism, and as such it seems to strive to re-create free spaces that no longer exist even in Southern California: smoke-filled rat-hole clubs with "out" music that offer the possibilities of danger, comradeship and love. It's slow, austere, menacing and full of empty space, dissonant but rocking, pursued vigorously enough to call those lost spaces into being. Drummer Hurley and bassist Watt create unwholesome sex grooves reminiscent of Red Krayola, while Baiza takes highly disciplined guitar excursions into free territory and straight jazz. Coming and going throughout are the vocals of McGuire, who gets five songs, Thomas, who gets three, and Pettibon and Watt, who sing one each. McGuire translates the sound of the record best when he enters the unsettling "End of the World" two minutes in, without warning, muttering an inch from your ear, "Who fucked me in the mouth would propagate his leaflets on the transcendental subway." All of a sudden, he's homeless, you're homeless, and the only thing in the room is the stubborn insistence of this mystery cult of middle-aged bohemians on its own authority. A great record for those willing to hear it.

 
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