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Theoretical Girls

April 19, 2010 by garry

Heaved up from a filthy gutter inside the incredibly fertile New York City art and music scene of the 1970s, the Theoretical Girls--one of the best-named outfits ever--hurt the feelings of at least a few hundred eardrums from 1977-79. Ostensibly of no wave origins, their efforts also spilled over into punk rock proper. Oddly enough, the band, formed by Jeffrey Lohn and Glenn Branca, only released one single in their lifetime, leaving the entirety of their rehearsal and live material unreleased until 1996 and 2003, when it appeared on two different CDs--the first divided up into songs by Branca and the second by Lohn.

The Theoretical Girls' eponymous CD contains all of the songs by Lohn and starts off with--what else?--a self-titled song. It's a fast, high-energy slab of slop rock that counts off "1, 2, 3, 4!" way more times than any other song I've ever heard. "Computer Dating" sounds just the way you want this band to: chock-full of droney, alternately-tuned guitars that chuck up a super-tense vibe. "Contrary Motion" matches metallic feedback stops and starts with a whole bunch of relentless ascending and descending distorted guitar scorch. "Europe Man," "Mom and Dad" and "Nato" contrast that with some relatively straightforward rock, while "Lovin' in the Red" offers more high-energy, driving skronk. The most unusual track on the album is the single, "U.S. Millie," which sounds downright peppy by comparison with its keyboard-led martial march, perky melody, funny lyrics and total lack of guitar.

"No More Sex" and "Electronic Angie" bring the noise roaring back with a slice of slashing, feedbacked punk rock, while the smirkishly named "Keyboard Etude" brandishes a distorted keyboard and drum assault against your ears. "Chicita Bonita" channels the B-52s and your little sister getting attacked by a lawn mower, while "Polytonal" lives up to its name with a round of more corroded keyboards punctuated by some sharp and angular yet somehow melodic guitar. "Parlez Vous Francais" closes out the album proper with a ladle full of plodding no wave slash that segues into dissonant thrash. Alternate versions of tracks 1, 2, 5, 11 and 12 are tacked onto the end.

More: Acute Records, Amazon, Last.FM, No Wave, Paris Trans-Atlantic, Wikipedia

Glenn Branca's Songs '77-'79 CD contains a couple of tracks by his first band, The Static, plus six ditties he penned for the Theoretical Girls. The droning din of The Static, especially, hints at the sound he would go on to refine in the 1980s with his Rhys Chatham-inspired minimal guitar army hurricanes. The Static opens the disc with "Don't Let Me Stop You" in which some repetitive barre chords get suddenly killed by shrill dissonance. Once this track gets going, it totally kills. "My Relationship" shows up next and pretty much flattens your town with super-heavy, alternately-tuned riffage that speeds up into a sloppy thrash mess.

From track three on, the Theoretical Girls take over the proceedings. "You Got Me" continues the attack via more hammering minimal guitars and keyboards, while an acoustic guitar makes a surprising appearance accompanied by some awfully shaky singing in "Jill." Said wooden instrument sadly has to endure more than its fair share of torture. The delightfully titled "Fuck Yourself" features Branca himself reciting the title over and over in time with a repetitive dissonant riff peppered with some squeaky sax. The song then completely falls apart in a mess of sloppy drumwork. "TV Song" delves into high-energy punk rock territory via a barely listenable lo-fi cassette recording, while "You" continues the minimal rock fiasco with more distorted guitar neck strangling. "Glazened Idols" shuts the disc down with a shrill demonic rock storm that eventually segues into a free-improv catastrophe.

More: Amazon, Answers, Last.FM, Official, Wikipedia

Timeframe: Post-Altamont.

Public Impact: Although the Theoretical Girls only ever released one single, their music went on to inspire Glenn Branca's own subsequent alternately-tuned electric guitar symphonies, and thus Sonic Youth, who took it ot on the road and exposed it to a whole generation of indie rockers.





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