“The Black Session”
The British post-punk band wire has a tendency to not look back, going through major transformations and concentrating on the new, rather than the old material. For example, in the mid-1980s, when Wire emerged as a more electronically focused group, it performed none of its late ’70s rock-combo material (the albums “Pink Flag,” “Chairs Missing” and “154,” all of which are essential) in live shows, instead leaving that task up to its opening act, the Wire cover band The Ex-Lion Tamers.
The group’s latest reboot, at the turn of the century, showed the band re-embracing the electric guitar on its “Read & Burn” EPs, with a driving minimalism and irresistible momentum. However, on choice occasions, Wire has revisited older material, such as the live album “The Black Session,” recorded for a French radio show last May. Half of it is comprised of selections from Wire’s 2011 album, “Red Barked Tree,” while the other numbers are various highlights from the group’s long career.
The “Red Barked Tree” material isn’t as aggressive as that from the previous decade, and in a live setting, it isn’t delivered quite with the precision heard on the studio recordings; a few of these new songs may sound oddly familiar to fans, like “Please Take,” which is somewhat similar to “Blessed State” or “Clay” off “154”, which bears a strong resemblance to 1978’s “I Am the Fly.” The revisited older tracks aren’t dramatically altered, and in fact the group seems to be attempting to make carbon copies in a few cases. The guitar timbres on “Map Ref. 41°N 93°W” and the opening strums of “Kidney Bingos” match the originals incredibly closely.
Although the performances are good, fans may find the album redundant and lacking many surprises, but there is one clear pinnacle: The closing track, an unstoppable 10-minute version of “Pink Flag” with raucous, glorious guitar chaos—a song that sounds just as vital today as it did 35 years ago.
Certainly one of the most unusual and flat-out insane albums of recent memory, Philip Gayle’s “Babanço Total” was created entirely from sounds that originated from his body—and it’s not an album for the squeamish. No noise is too awkward for Gayle, from gurgles and burps to blowing raspberries to the sound of swishing saliva around his mouth. It varies from being hilarious to causing discomfort, and it’s a bit like eavesdropping on someone working his way through some severe gastrointestinal issues.
Gayle uses his voice frequently on the album, but it’s dramatically altered so that it has no semblance of normality. At times, he seems to be imitating Donald Duck, and on “Feral Basil Pesto,” he primarily uses nonsense vocal sounds, although a few distinguishable words actually slip through. “Stone Shoes” features exaggerated kissy-type noises, while “Falling Off Brain Like I Told Myselves” is a cacophony of sped-up voices, played in reverse—an appropriately disorienting track that seems to manifest the multiple personality disorder suggested by the title. For “Howdy Elephant Tree,” Gayle vocalizes with a vaguely Southern accent and is perhaps imitating the patterns of someone with mental deficiencies, for an extra dose of wrongness.
This kind of body-focused sound creation is not unprecedented, and perhaps a sibling track is the 1970 piece “Our Song” by Ron Geesin and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, created for a documentary about anatomy. While “Our Song” was a concentrated burst, “Babanço Total” explores its unconventional sound-making for over an hour, making it difficult listening for all but the most hardy listeners. Although Gayle is clearly flaunting his eccentricities, the album isn’t just a pile of random sounds. There is some method to the song constructions and even harmonizing in places where one might not expect. I’m glad this album exists, although I may not be compelled to listen to it frequently, being completely bonkers, utterly awkward and unabashedly ridiculous.