To Live and Shave in L.A.
As Gods Are Skinned et al…
Multiple releases jumbo review of:
As Gods Are Skinned
Only One Work Survives This Purge
Spatters of a Royal Sperm
Among To Live and Shave in L.A. critics – the band not the film – few have equal. Sometimes I don’t like the fit. Few have insight into the shared output and M.O. of Tom Smith and Frank “Rat Bastard” Falestra as I and I have seen them live numerous times since their formative years, going back to 1995 in Ybor City when the above Smith and Rat on vocals/tapes, bass, along with then-member-oscillatorist Ben Wolcott soundtracked the fevered exit of gallery attendees who expected je ne sais quoi. LOL. Months before I’d seen the trio in Orlando, a showcase evening, tucked in among performances by (mostly) indie rockers, and for Shave only did my jaw drop.
Nothing’s changed except each successive concert and recording since their formation. No repeat buttons. Genre is obsolete. No three words since Pound’s “Make it new” aptly pronounce their goal for a late 20th/early 21st century aesthetic.
Records reviewed here strip bare the clowns of culture, politics, -isms, and art. Some of them are old. Stasis is anathema. To Live and Shave are high and low brow, coupled anxiety and lust, ambition and brick walls, XXX, Championship Wrestling From Florida, personae of both swolled and defeated, forgotten laborers for whom a slice of pizza and a cold beer must suffice. The concept of dread with a distant, shrouded beacon promising sound (not, necessarily) salvation – rock bottom impetus for the next step to if and then.
As Gods Are Skinned takes the baton from Shave’s Menlo Park recording “Noon And Eternity”. The music is physical, a distant relation to metal and noise (passe the both), and PRE- inasmuch as House begat Jungle begat Grime, begat again. For “Noon” Smith and Rat employed Thurston Moore and Andrew W.K., among others, to emphatically address the horrors of war and totalitarianism. As Gods includes performance artist Lucas Abela’s distinct and closely mic’d glass works, tugging at times on sleeves of ink, bloodied and relational. Opener “The Clot” eventually oozes like a Romero victim, staged in black and white, lines reading “Complex modus vivendi/Apocalyptic dearth of Promethean inflation/Of Promethean inflation/An easy death amid the urgency/Of demonstrably inferior intimation” as a pending threat to Abela’s well-being pushes Smith’s words backward in time to universal human fears and missteps. Smith drawls along “Two Form A Clique” phrases stretched and taut into “Consonants and vowels/Consonants and vowels/Seem to imitate the groaning/Of a rural algebra” which readily indicts fly-over shortsightedness but maybe it’s not so simple, so partied, as he repeats: “Two form a clique/Two form a clique/One-Two form a clique”.
Uneven digital and analog percussion, looped and/or not, negate ease even as feet want to tap along with “Wine Goes Through Wine In Dark Accord”. You’ll hit the dance-floor with sledgehammers in hand. Smith notes the record is, “Just kinda coloring and tagging all the underlying threads making things so maddening now – at least those things troubling me. And one sincere paean to a pal lost to suicide, wreathed in a broad cultural critique.” In and above the thoroughly consuming and heavily processed sounds are missives edited to maximum potency. Listen for the one true sentence, even if a death sentence. This is not joyful music. There’s nothing fake.
Next is Precursors Thirst, which Smith describes “as different as different could be from As Gods Are Skinned and that’s one of the things I like about it. It kind of mixed itself. It was as spontaneous as AGAS was treacherous, but I was so excited to be working with material from Lurch X (of UK combo Guttersnipe), Tara Pattenden (Phantom Chips) and Theo Gowans (UK brutalist project called Territorial Gobbing) though Rat was not slouching… I fiddled around the clock for two weeks to complete it. I wanted it to bounce and shift and plow through tonalities. It’s 180 degrees from AGAS, but that’s kind of the point.” The absence of the apostrophe is also purposeful.
Divided into Sides A and B, repeated phrases and surges and ping-ponging malfunctioning arcade games make for good times. Tough to know each guest’s contributions, but repetition is critical. Side B bombastically announces the name “Jeff” (I believe – spoken by a woman – I believe) and becomes a tribune as the word morphs into “cheap” or “chef” abetted by pedals waxing and waning, Â¼ inch cables jacked into the hospital HVAC. Loosely. It’s so easy to imagine Rat shredding on a purple Charvel, Tom mixing every note to 1000th the original speed. Words are fragments. The missing apostrophe begs to be heard.
Only One Work Survives This Purge drops its arm and needle into the grooves of Venetian Snares, Krakkbot, and Jlin, likely turntable companions, alongside a heart for R&B, R&D, and scratching world records. Opening song “Rubber Stamp Envelope” is fun, the dance floor packed with sweaty bodies bonding over ASMR fixations. Some clock ticks, some beat drops. “He Destroys The Films” pushes the bodies apart as descending James Tenney tones parceled every 15 seconds or so leave space for an amalgam of processed voices, cartoonish booms and pows and overdriven effects pedals. So it seems. “Well Suited To The Aims” exalts Shave’s longstanding approach to vocals, and a martial snare. Helium seeps from a balloon. What this is. Paranoid Leather is one of Smith’s DJ and recording monikers, and there as here the deconstruction of EDM seems paramount. The metronomic constant among songs binds.
Let’s do the time warp to the earliest incarnation of To Live and Shave in L.A., the recording Spatters of a Royal Sperm. The 1992 EP followed years of Peach of Immortality shows (some alongside Pussy Galore) and limited Peach recordings. Smith had or would eventually move to Miami Beach, meet Rat, then Ben, and along with Harry Pussy and Frosty were bestowed the shared title “Farrakhans of sound” from some regional read, which was dumb. Spatters demonstrates Smith’s cassette editing with an unironic and vigorous nod to musique concrete and dub. Layers of sampled, clipped, cropped, and bleached FM rock radio and smooth jazz hasten Smith’s now nascent vocals, parts announcer-voices, Something Weird promo, punk rock histrionics, nights at the opera, and your mom. Fair to say you appreciate the somersaults and tightrope tricks or you don’t.
What Smith declares above the din in opener “Bad Couple” is tough to decipher, but given Jon Spencer’s crooning howl is looped in 4 second increments, perhaps Smith was rear-viewing those PG tour years. These songs are claustrophobic, anti-rock. Given the college rock/indie rock landscape, Spatters and early Shave could be nirvana. I know, that’s horrible. Some cuts shimmy and shake like “The Plot That Failed” whereby a chugga-chugga bottom end from Tad or Krokus or both/neither is reconfigured into stadium rock, the stadium’s flooring coated in spilled beer, roaches, and discarded pages of Juggs. Under the Miami Beach moon.
Included on the Hanson vinyl option are rare cuts of Smith’s hi-jinks pulling a Christian Marclay before Marclay was in the limelight for treating vinyl as objects to be modified or redefined. In the late ’70s/early ’80s while working at WVVS Valdosta State, Smith had studio space to craft dub cuts from existing punk and new wave records. The “Rigid Arrangement Promo #5” seems parts Dark Brothers and County Seat commercial, with nothing coming between Smith and his surreptitious opportunity see where unlimited imagination, time, and sound could meet.
Could be a stock car race, rural Georgia, 1963. This may not be music after all.
Per Tom Smith: As Gods Are Skinned is imminent on Independent Woman Records in New Zealand. Precursors Thirst has actually been delayed until the late autumn, as we have too many new releases out at once! It’ll be on vinyl via Karl Schmidt Verlag. The European tour cassette is forthcoming on KSV and is called Only One Work Survives This Purge. Spatters of a Royal Sperm may be found now on the Aaron Dilloway’s Hanson label.