I have to admit, about half the time I’ve picked up a record just because the name of the band wouldn’t leave my head — and who can forget a name like Borbetomagus? Those of you who are historically-inclined will remember that being the archaic name for the German town of Worms, although there’s little (overt) connection between that bit of antiquity and three guys from New York — Don Dietrich, Jim Sauter and Donald Miller — who play sax and guitar and in the words of Byron Coley of Forced Exposure, throw down “balls on the line improvisation with enough energy to flatten buildings.”
Borbetomagus first caught my eye back when their Seven Reasons for Tears LP appeared in the Dutch East India mail-order catalog. Only slightly earlier had I bumped into Coley writing glowingly about the Borbeto boys, so I slipped a check into the envelope and held my breath. That disc impressed me enormously (and as soon as I can get the CD reissue of it I’ll write about that one too), and after that I kept their name on the short list of artists to pick up whenever one of their releases crossed my path at a not-too-murderous price. The pricetag often turned out to be the deal-killer: when I lived in the city and made periodic forays downtown to Tower Records, a lone CD copy of Live at InRoads glowered at me from the racks every time I walked by for the low, low price of $26. I finally caved in and plied the plastic one evening when me and my wife were in the company of another friend, neither of whom think much of my musical tastes.Read more
I’m fond of quoting Jacques Barzun’s statement about “experimental art” — that if one considers a certain work of art to be experimental, one must also concede that there is the possibility that the experiment has failed. I’ve since expanded my thinking on the issue a bit, and responded with a few questions of my own: What are the parameters of success and failure for a given “experiment”, and who dictates them, the artist or the audience? I don’t think these questions have fixed answers, either; you have to ask yourself such questions every time you approach something new, and see what comes of it. Nobody is ever trying to do the same thing the same way, or for the same reasons, or with the same ends in mind.
This Heat were one of many bands from England that had the labels “experimental” and “post-punk” pasted onto them, but I suspect in both cases it was a matter of sheer categorical sloppiness than anything else. The band was “post-punk” only in the sense that they released their first albums at roughly the same time as other “post-punk” acts, and had some of the same energy and brittleness of sound as the rest of those bands, even if they were putting it to entirely different ends. In terms of what they were trying to achieve and where they were getting most of their deeper inspiration, they probably owed more to European progressive-rock outfits like Faust. In fact, if anything, they were one of the few British bands that managed to match Faust’s reputation in terms of the eclecticism of their sound and the sheer level of mystery and oddity they conjured up out of nowhere. I know of few other bands from England that commanded the level of subterranean awe that This Heat did, and they sported two of the same hallmarks of other bands of legend: a small but scrupulously assembled body of work, and an enigmatic aura that stayed with them no matter what they might have done to dispel it. Read more