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Friends Forever / Gang Wizard - Split CD

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Artist: Friends Forever / Gang Wizard

Album: Split CD

Label: Deathbomb Arc

Review date: Jun. 6, 2005

This CD is an enhanced re-issue of a messy face-off between two of the underground's most gloriously disastrous musical groups: the ironically defunct Friends Forever, and the cryptic west coast feedback cult, Gang Wizard. Both bands share a loud love of total chaos, improvisational collisions, and uber-enthusiastic performance tactics, and neither of them fears crossing that divide into stupidity. Naturally, this results in their shows and recordings usually being ear-shreddingly alive or mind-numbingly indulgent. Or, as is vastly more frequent, both. This split CD - released on Burbank's own Deathbomb Arc Records (which is run by Brian Miller, one of Gang Wizard's five guitarists) - flip-flops between inspired explosions and bored squalls so often it eventually becomes pointless to distinguish the two.

Denver, Colorado's Friends Forever detonated on most weird music maps via their visceral, van-based live attacks (and Ben Wolfinsohn's subsequent, beautifully executed independent documentary on the subject), but their recordings have largely been sub-radar endeavors. Load released Killball, FF's Rollerball-ish concept album of faux-stadium rock songs dedicated to the Denver Broncos, which was amusing for about six minutes. Here, though, they offer up a set of 10 songs entitled Deep Space EXPLORE!!! which is actually the tamer of the two sides by far. The majority of the mostly-instrumental tracks (only two songs have real lyrics, and one of them is just 30 seconds of a stoned guy going, “Having an acid flashback!! Shoulda never done PCP!! Woo-woo-woo!!”) attempt to plot a B-movie outer space soundtrack, with almost kitschy Forbidden Planet synth riffs, and patient half-ambient drones unfolding across cold drums. Only on “EXPLORE!!!” and “Earth Brain vs. Infinity” do the Friends truly dive into it, crash-landing their bass/drums/keyboard craft into a giant crater of pummeling, roaring noise. Amidst so much weightless drifting and silly astronaut clowning, the heavy impact is a welcome blast of tangible rock.

The final frontiers Gang Wizard traverse are vastly less literal than those of FF’s deep space stargazing, but intensely more harrowing and isolating. That’s a Pretty Big Fucking Lake You Got There, Africa is one massive avalanche of burning boulders and poisonous gasses, rumbling, dense, and destructive. Their “turn-on-8-amps-and-run-around-screaming-whatever” approach to free-rock occasionally coalesces into tectonic riffs and (almost) premeditated-sounding leads, especially on “I Don’t Want to Take a Bath” and “Freeway,” the latter of which even has a chorus (an absolute rarity in GW’s world). Their rotating membership and hostile improv make for some difficult listening, but there’s definitely an anti-method to the madness, and it’s not without its car-crash charisma (apparently Thurston Moore felt so too, since he released a GW LP, Jekyll Loves Hyde, on Ecstatic Peace last year). Nowhere is their gang-mentality wizardry more black-magical than on the album’s last track, “New Soundtrack to The Ring.” A hurtling, three-chord train of screech, wind, and metal that gradually grinds into sparks and lava, then utterly implodes, only to somehow come marching back out of the wreckage, mangled and crushing and ploddingly defiant. Moments like this make the disc. Too bad they’re buried so deep - or lost in space.

By Britt Brown

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