Wall Drug - from The Layman Dances, 6-song cassette, 199? (.zip archive, 31MB)
Wall Drug were an improvisational "rock" trio, led by one R. Thak "Phoenix" Prudhomme, with Mark Ibold (Pavement, Free Kitten) and the Austrian drummer Martin Köb (Circle X, Loudspeaker.) Their refreshing, throw-it-at-the-tape-and-see-what-sticks attitude bore a perhaps surprising amount of good material, issued both in the form of cassette-only releases and as contributions to compilation CDs. Wall Drug existed at a time just a few years prior to the mini-explosion of improvised music with a decidedly rock aesthetic, in the form of New York bands like The No Neck Blues Band, Hall of Fame and K Salvatore, and bands based in nearby Virginia like Rake and Pelt; a few years later, there would have been more of a "scene" for Wall Drug to engage. It would be great someday to see a full-length CD release/overview of their work, as Wall Drug truly deserve reexamination, especially by the newer generation of outsider music fans. This cassette represents perhaps their earliest recordings, predating the trio with Köb, and was recorded by Phoenix, Ibold and a guest guitarist, S. "Gil" Meter, on two tracks. Their later trio with full drum kit achieved a more "kosmische" presence, but these early experiments also have a certain charm.
I was in the middle of doing my radio show one night, at the old WFMU studios under Froeberg Hall on the Upsala campus, when the doorbell rang. This was typically a heart-quickening experience, as the station was often deserted at night (save for the person on-air), and whoever was waiting outside the door—and the events that could ensue—were a complete roll of the dice. I opened the door, and in came Rocky Kwashiorkor, with short blond whiskers and 50s-style horn-rimmed spectacles. I wish I could remember what he said then, what his lead-in was to this highly unusual recording he was about to present me with. I thanked him for the tape and he was off. The Kwashiorkor cassette made a tremendous impression on me then (side A especially), and remains one of the weirdest pieces in my entire music collection. Side A of the tape is a disturbing recitation/chant by a lone male vocalist, with percussion that sounds like it could be the reader's own trudging feet. The whole piece comes off like a nightmarish nature walk, with environmental sounds like insects and passing cars weaving in and out. At about the halfway point, when what sounds like an enormous field of crickets slyly takes over as the percussion of the piece, a new plateau of insanity is reached, both for the performer and listener. The other side of the Kwashiorkor cassette is a 31-minute percussion jam, like an ultra lo-fi Diga Rhythm Band, with pleasant xylophone melodies, murmured voices and an overall environmental mood similar to side A. In fact, the whole cassette feels like it was recorded outdoors, with loads of hiss creating a mask of undefinable sounds.