Work Resumed on the Tower
News from Babel Work Resumed on the Tower LP (Recommended, 1984)
The first Recommended record I stumbled upon was a pure impulse buy for me. When I was in my mid-teens, Tower Records - which was headquartered in West Sacramento - had a warehouse sale. A bunch of friends piled into my station wagon and off we went to look for records. Inside the warehouse there were hundreds of boxes of records, all with top edge spray painted a different color, each color signifying a certain price. Me, being the skinflint that I am, I went for the dollar box (color green) and, after an hour of digging, had a stack of twenty or so records. Because I can only remember two (which are still in my collection) I assume 18 of the 20 sucked. The two keepers were Skrewdriver's All Skrewed Up, certainly one of the best no-frills punk records ever made, and Chris Cutler & Fred Frith's Live in Prague & Washington. Both records were mysteries to me. "You didn't know Skrewdriver?" No, this was when 77 punk was being overshawed by American hardcore and before Skrewdriver become the face of the National Front. The record cover looked punk so I bought it.
I had no idea what a Chris Cutler was but I'd seen Fred Frith's on inner sleeve Ralph Records' ads in Residents albums. I was a big fan of the Residents, so anything associated with them was game for me. I had no idea what to expect of Live in Prague... and what I got was not only a nice surprise but one of those mind changing disks. Here was really noisy guitar improv, really noisy. There didn't seem to be any form or structure and being a captive of 1-2-3-4 punk rock (though an admirer of anything "weird") and not have heard free jazz, I didn't know where to place it. I had a SPK album (Leichenshrei) which was also really fucking noisy and some Throbbing Gristle. And while those records were close in volume, they also seemed to have a musical center. Cutler/Frith didn't, at least I couldn't hear it at the time. Good thing, as it made me realize that not only were there no emotional limits to music (something punk taught me) but there were also no creative limits. Soon after I formed a band (Satyagraha) composed of two drummers, guitar, bass, moog, and obeo. We played a few punk shows with Subhumans and Flipper, pissing off the hardcores but pleasing the Flipper freaks with a set that pretty much started out with "Okay ready? One two three four" and everyone pretty much playing whatever the fuck they wanted until the drummers needed a rest. I don't know if it was any "good" or not, but it sure was a hell of a lot of fun.
So since scoring the Cutler/Frith record, I kept my eyes open for more. Bought some Frith albums on Ralph and was disappointed. Too slick and no noise. Cutler, I couldn't fine and at the time I hadn't clued in on looking for stuff on certain labels, outside of a few punk imprints. Besides, Recommended titles weren't easy to find, even in a town with a store that had a great import section. However over the years, I picked up Recommended titles here and there. Also learned that Cutler was in Henry Cow and the Art Bears and, the few times I found records by those bands, I'd buy them. Then in the late 90s, in the days when a website took ten minutes to come up through dial up in your netscpe browser, I found the Recommended Records website, which had new copies of dozens of titles at discount prices (because vinyl was dead) postpaid from the UK. Even with the crippling UK/US exchange rate, I was paying no more than seven bucks a record with shipping included! Of course, I splurged. What else could I do? And I got some great stuff. But this News from Babel album I didn't get. This came a bit later.
The first time I listened to News from Babel, I thought: Great shit, sounds familiar. Of course, it does! Three fifths of the band are Henry Cow/Art Bears alum - Lindsay Cooper, Chris Culter, and Dagmar Krause are the familiar names (and Phil Minton as guest). Rather than rattle of the band's history, I'll just go on to the music, a great combo of art, rock, and experimentalism, something which pretty much describes Recommended.
We (X-tal) played with you and the Subhumans in Sacramento. Small world.
When I go to the record store these days I just end up at the metal section by default. Metal doesn't really scratch the itch. It just numbs it. But now I have something to look for.