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Old 02-28-2011, 01:21 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Glenn Branca - The Ascension (1981) [SAA Album Club discussion thread]

Glenn Branca - The Ascension (1981)


This album was chosen for the last week's listening and this week's discussing
Quote:
Originally Posted by dankrsta View Post
The second album by (I'm sure you know him) Branca, avant-garde composer famous for his guitar symphonies, crazy tunings, droning sounds etc. He was heavily involved in New York No Wave scene in the second part of the 70s and had an enormous influence on later New York no wave/noise bands like Sonic Youth and Swans (members of these bands played in his guitar choirs).
So, what do you think?
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Old 02-28-2011, 01:36 PM   #2 (permalink)
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I've been listening to this album for such a long time that I suppose any of my objective opinions are masked by the utter joy I get upon hearing it. I mean, you take an album like this, that not only was a huge inspiration on No Wave groups that followed (Sonic Youth among them, who are one of my all-time favorite bands), but also was fun to listen to? All I get out of is joy and interest, and I can barely analyze the music on account of that.

I don't know how anybody can listen to tracks like "The Spectacular Commodity" and "Lightfield (In Consonance)" and not feel the adrenaline rush from the slow and steady crescendos into utter Hell. Parts of it sort of feel a bit bare, empty or unrefined, but in general it's so lively and visceral that 'no wave symphonies' (a term I see applied to the album a lot) are a really good description for the passages. It took its time on me, that's for sure. I originally thought Sonic Youth outdid this album to death on Confusion is Sex in terms of guitar sound, but this album has definitely climbed its way up my list.
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Old 03-01-2011, 08:09 AM   #3 (permalink)
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It's a good album. Get the feeling I might need to give it another listen but definitely original. Not standout, to be honest, but nothing seeps below great.
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Old 03-01-2011, 05:01 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Skaligojurah View Post
It's a good album. Get the feeling I might need to give it another listen but definitely original. Not standout, to be honest, but nothing seeps below great.
I thought the same until I listened to it again. I was surprised to see how layered everything was and how each guitar contributed greatly to making it sound complex, even though it's very minimalistic. The third time around, it was like listening to an orchestra, except it was with guitars that gave off a very clean sound (which is strange because on the first listen it seems a bit noisy/drone-ish). I can definitely see how Branca's work inspired bands like Sonic Youth because his influence on them is very evident.

That's probably the best thing about this album, every time I hear it it sounds a bit different each time (but then again, that's with a lot of music - especially experimental).
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Old 03-02-2011, 09:50 AM   #5 (permalink)
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This album kind of surprised me because it isn't as crushing and crashing as I thought it would be. Everyone already knows this but there's no question that Branca was the architect of Sonic Youth's guitar sound and Thurston and Lee are, in my opinion, the best and most important guitar duo in the history of rock'n'roll. Therefore, an 'excellent' rating is a given as far as I'm concerned.

Quote:
Confusion is Sex
That would be a good album to vote on. I thought this was going to be more like that, especially comsidering the chronology of the releases, but The Ascension surprised me because a lot of it seems to have a more upbeat feel similar in a way to Daydream Nation. Obviously The Ascension isn't rock driven like DN but Confusion is Sex is a lot darker.
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Old 03-06-2011, 04:03 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Well, what to say about this brilliant album, what words to choose that will do it justice? Like clutnuckle, I am so familiar with it, every sound is so natural to me that I have to make an effort to remember what did it sound like when I first heard it. But, I have to say that even then it sounded familiar in a way, because I was listening to Sonic Youth for years prior to hearing it. And it wasn't my first Branca album, that was Symphony No. 6 (Devil Choirs at the Gates of Heaven), another excellent record.

Everybody knows how influential Branca was and is, blah, blah...I wanna talk about music. These four guitars, a bass and drums, a bit extended rock line-up, create such a deeply layered music, rich in colors, dynamic, full of contrasts and contradictions. These contradictions are expressed through tensions and releases, lightness and darkness, repetitions and changes. All of this is achieved with the most important thing, that ties everything together, a masterful composition.

'Lesson No. 2', the opening track, one of the two shorter ones, shows the gradual progression of repetitive riffs, set in different layers, which provide their interplay, chasing, playing around each other. One is full of nonchalance and the other is dense and hypnotic, threatening to drown everything in noise. This creates an interesting dynamic, despite the repetition, since the whole structure is on the verge of breaking apart. Because of it, the pause and the abrupt change in the middle doesn't seem out of place. It manages to surprise, but also feel inevitable. This to me is one of the greatest qualities of Branca's compositions.

The Spectacular Commodity (For Eiko and Koma) is maybe the best track on the album. It embodies everything I said above about contrasts and contradictions. It starts with minimal, spare tones becoming more and more dissonant, until the piercing, hollow, vibrating clusters break in with such a force creating an almost unbearable tension. The effect is highly dramatic, but at the same time it feels like this unresolved state will last forever, like some nightmarish drone. That is until some positive phrases began to appear promising a light at the end of the tunnel. But the drama is not over, there's no relaxing yet. After a long section of chasing, struggling, contrasts and overcoming of chaos, this piece goes with optimism. Truly spectacular!!! (I had to...)

Structure despite being the shortest, feels epic and monumental, an excellent exercise in intense build up.

Light Field (In Consonance), well, the title says it all. You know how classical compositions always have that seamless flow through time and modern ones are somehow claustrophobically trapped in time. This track, to me, is the perfect marriage of modern and classical composition....for guitars. Brilliant!

The Ascension, hmm, I could never decide which one is better, this or Spectacular Commodity. This epic, droning, closing track on the first hearing may look flat, but is actually full of refined differentiations. The first part is solemn, cosmic, consisting of vibrating clusters of tones and the general tone of ascending. But, throughout, there is a gradual, subtle change in mood, hinting at some inner turmoil. This turmoil comes in the second part through alternations of silent or calm sections and intense phrases. Gradually everything starts to flatten out again, but this time with the constant, subtle descending....until everything bursts with an intense climax. This is an excellent example of masterclass in minimal composition. It looks so simple on the outside, but what a rich world it reveals when you pay attention.

Since I made such an emphases on compositions, I have to mention that, despite all the alternate tunings, riffs and phrases, Branca's understanding of composition is the most valuable thing Sonic Youth learned from him. For its own merits and influence this record gets the highest mark.
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Old 03-06-2011, 05:00 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack Pat View Post
I thought the same until I listened to it again. I was surprised to see how layered everything was and how each guitar contributed greatly to making it sound complex, even though it's very minimalistic. The third time around, it was like listening to an orchestra, except it was with guitars that gave off a very clean sound (which is strange because on the first listen it seems a bit noisy/drone-ish). I can definitely see how Branca's work inspired bands like Sonic Youth because his influence on them is very evident.

That's probably the best thing about this album, every time I hear it it sounds a bit different each time (but then again, that's with a lot of music - especially experimental).
Listen to it a second time, and I do admit getting more out of it, might be new headphones, though.
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