Cellular Chaos brings real thrills to the speakers, Venezuela 70 finds their synthesizer roots
Diamond Teeth Clenched
This writer’s anecdotal and entirely unscientific theory about the concert-going experience posits a gradual increase of politeness and decrease of bodily movement over the last 25 years or so, recalling a time when it was nearly a certainty of seeing a pit form at any underground punk or rock show.
People want the thrill of danger but without the danger, like watching a horror film instead of walking down a dark alley.
With news of a chaotic Kenny Chesney concert in Pennsylvania earlier this month, where a number of people were hospitalized or arrested, have things turned upside-down so that mainstream country is now more dangerous than punk?
With these thoughts in mind, one of the few bands that this writer truly considers to be thrilling in this day and age is Cellular Chaos from NYC, with a live show that literally bounces off the walls; while its performances have a dimension no recording can have, its recordings are no slouch, including the band’s new second album, Diamond Teeth Clenched.
Cellular Chaos has a boatload of talent with a diverse lineup including singer Admiral Grey (The Simple Pleasure, Ecstatics), guitarist Weasel Walter (The Flying Luttenbachers, Lake of Dracula), drummer Marc Edwards (known for his free jazz work with Cecil Taylor and David S. Ware) and bassist Shayna Dulberger, active in the downtown avant-jazz scene.
From the start, on the opening “Burn Option,” Admiral Grey unleashes her unique vocal style that’s simultaneously fierce and with a girly sing-songy quality, while her bandmates plow through a pounding punk-metal grind that’s concentrated and targeted yet primitive. “Newport Lights” offers lightning-fast transitions and wild glissandos with brief moments of palate-cleansing with minimal drums in-between eruptions, and the title track snarls, with Dulberger’s insanely distorted bass and Walter’s demented guitar work, among meter and tempo changes, keeping the listener off-balance.
Edwards can do fast metal drumming when necessary in the more structured and composed environment of Cellular Chaos, but he gets a chance to let loose during the free-form beginning of “Bones.”
The album never lets up, and some of its most intense tracks come toward the end, including the disturbingly violent and passionate “Joyride,” on which Admiral Grey sings, “Punch me, kiss me, scream me poetry” and spouts a little fake operatic vocalizing.
Diamond Teeth Clenched has the band moving slightly away from the outward no-wave dissonance of its first album toward a more punk and metal-focused style, but it is as unhinged as ever.
The subtitle of the new compilation Venezuela 70 on Soul Jazz Records is “Cosmic Visions of a Latin American Earth: Venezuelan Experimental Rock in the 1970s”—while phrases like “cosmic visions” and “experimental rock” may bring to mind high-tech musical adventures and bold sonic exploration, the collection’s offerings aren’t exactly as ground-breaking as one might have been promised.
A more honest subtitle might be, “Venezuelan Popular Music of the ‘70s Discovers Synths.”
By this time, the listening public had been exposed to synths in popular music, used either as a novelty or as an instrument as valid as any other.
On these selections, there’s a playful attitude with synth parts sprinkled atop various genres, borrowing from rock to funk to Latin rhythms, but only a few hint at the revolutionary potential of synthesizers or studio wizardry.
Pablo Schneider’s “Amor En Llamas” (Love in Flames) is a killer track with an eccentric funk groove, exotic percussion, violin/piano/flute counterpoint, and even a little rapturous wordless vocalizing toward the end; the 9-minute “Polvo Lunar” (Moon Dust) from Miguel Angel Fuster froths up an exciting street-funk number with synthetic enhancements including a sound like a sci-fi gun in the hands of a trigger-happy individual.
The most distinctive and genre-pushing numbers on Venezuela 70 come from Angel Rada; his “Basheeba” sounds more like something from early Kraftwerk or the BBC Radiophonic Workshop than anything in South America with artificial percussion and effervescent electronic tones.
Psychedelic flourishes find their way into tracks like the soft-rock “Barcos De Papel” from Fernando Yvosky, in the form of seriously fuzzed-out guitar when the song ramps up, or the wah-guitar in “Dame De Comer” which borrows a tune from Bach and has a sort of cinematic score quality, like others such as the driving, orchestral “La Quema De Judas” that could be used for a crime film soundtrack.
As with other Soul Jazz compilations, Venezuela 70 can either serve as a jumping-off point for further exploration or as a strong stand-alone document.
Those expecting some kind of mind-blowing discovery of a pocket of radical, lost musical gold may be let down, but with expectations in check, Venezuela 70 is a consistently pleasant and fun listen with a glimpse at a country’s zeitgeist infrequently examined in the western world.