Friday, February 8, 2013

Make Love to the Scene

Original Facebook post here.
Today's formative-album replay: The Velvet Underground and Nico. I guess it says a lot about my taste that the "and Nico" part of this rangy landmark work is what I've always responded to most strongly. Indeed, if the cliche about this album is that only a few thousand people heard it originally but every one of them went out and started a band, the corollary truth would be that nearly every song here could have spawned a different genre. You could trace glam rock, the bluesier varieties of punk, art/noise, grunge, shoegaze, post-Dylan folk-rock, and more back to this single source.

And yet for all that, it hangs together as a document of a particular time and place; as Threepenny was to Weimar Germany, this record sounds like the definitive soundtrack for the preemptively cynical Factory scene, a dirty-fingernailed salute to the dangerous, defiantly decadent demimonde of late-'60s NYC--the seamy flip-side of Hair's flower power. This record has a palpable, throbbingly sensory quality to it, not quite a stench or a tang but something like that; much of it feels like it was recorded in a dank basement between alternating hits of smack and speed. Among its many sonic innovations--the lo-fi multitracking, the seemingly found percussion sounds, the keening fiddle and screeching feedback--the most striking on this listen was the chaotic guitar "solos," the wildly arrhythmic shredding that sounds like literal shredding, that bubble up intermittently until they boil over in the raucous finale, "European Son."

All that duly noted, it's the penultimate track, "I'll Be Your Mirror," that brings the record home for me. Nico's throaty, sphynx-like mystique, the light, chiming guitar and tambourine, the utterly un-ironic lover's challenge of the lyric--these are what stick with me, a candle in the otherwise enveloping darkness of this pitch-black masterwork.

Tracy Young oh hell yeah
Robin Rogers I saw Nico play live in a small venue in Scotland months before she died. She was rambling and broken-down, but it was stunning to be within 15 feet of Nico.
Chambers Stevens It says more about your hormones than your taste.

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