n 1996, the fine Thirsty Ear label — never motivated by commerce, always driven by the need to issue what was new, odd, and fresh, even if it is that rare freakish and fractured thing — released Cubist Blues. It was the unholy union of future roots music wailer Alan Vega with a pair of terminal rock & roll outsiders in Ben Vaughn and Alex Chilton. Since almost everybody else in the indie and pop worlds were still wandering around in shock after the death of Kurt Cobain, almost no one took notice of this terrifyingly great record made in two consecutive dusk-to-dawn improvisational sessions at Dessau Studios on the Lower East Side of New York in December of 1994! Like the best of jazz when the cats in the ’50s would just show up to see what would happen (more often than not, it did: check the Norman Granz Jam Session albums and the Prestige All-Stars). In any case, this set is now a double-disc which includes the studio album and a “Live at the Transmuicales” version in France made a few days later. What does it sound like? Crazy voodoo ghost music. It sounds like Eddie Cochrane, Gene Vincent, and Johnny Burnette fighting for a place at Elvis’ table someplace between heaven and hell that isn’t earth. Vega’s a poet of the other side of rock & roll. In the grain of his voice is the cry, weep, and wail of the blues as it met speed, cars, rocket ships, and the inside of Papa Legba’s drum. Forget for one moment he was in Suicide, if you can, and listen to these freaky, screwed-down guitars, ramshackle pianos bearing their low keys like a dog’s teeth, basses that rumble instead of pop. It’s messed up — check tracks like “Fly Away,” where Jim Morrison meets Jeffrey Lee Pierce in the rebel squall of the south wind; the steam-shovel rockabilly of “Fat City” that is as streetwise as any hip-hop crew’s boast shop, or creates a roaring sound Dion would have loved to have heard in his head in the Bronx in the ’50s. It is poetry, man. There’s the noir-ish blues of “Sister” that stumbles, falls, and breaks its leg before it ever starts, and the post-nightmare retake on “Dream Baby,” where nothing is as it seems in the mirror. The live disc howls even more primitively, with the crew trying to force the audience through the eye of the space needle with them. Brilliant, disturbing, obsessive, and addictive.
[via Anders Rex]