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V/A - Bulb Singles #1 and #2

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Artist: V/A

Album: Bulb Singles #1 and #2

Label: Bulb

Review date: Jun. 5, 2003

Collected Chaos

Bulb Records was founded by Pete Larson and Jim Magas in 1993 as sort of a vanity label to release albums by Larson’s various musical alter egos. Taking in huddled masses of misunderstood noise artists, Bulb became a haven for those more interested in creating a racket than in professionalism. Magas eventually left the label and Bulb has since released plenty of non-Larson-related material, but based on these compilations, the label’s aesthetic has changed little over the years. These two compact discs celebrate Bulb Records’ tenth anniversary by compiling all of the 7-inches released by the label in that time (many of which are rare or out of print), with disc one covering 1993 to 1994 and disc two covering 1995 to the present.

Subtlety is not Bulb’s strongest point. The bands on these compilations range from ultraprimitive punkabilly to pure noise, covering every possible perversion in between. Of the former, Prehensile Monkeytailed Skink, Voodoo Boots, and King Brothers are convincingly manic, while Monarchs are disappointingly tame. Of the latter, Bullet in the Head contribute interesting protoindustrial soundscapes, Tweezers build mountains of tape noise and screeching, and Mr. Velocity Hopkins adds minimalist, but still overpowering, constructions of static and distortion.

But the best bands lie in the middle, taking relatively recognizable song structures and rhythms and totally demolishing them with feedback and hiss. Shriek and Cornelius Gomez layer bizarrely humorous vocals and noises over lurching bass and drums, creating reactions ranging from amusement to panic. The Many Moods of Marlon Magas sound like the lost DIY B-52’s demos on “(Open Up) the Crab,” and a crazed Beefheartian balladeer on “Malaka!” 25 Suaves (Pete Larson’s current ensemble) play kindergarten no-wave, gleefully demolishing any instruments or eardrums that get in their way. But it’s the almighty Wolf Eyes who jump in at the last minute to steal the show, wielding drum machines and grim sound effects. Their metallic, urban clatter makes the other bands’ racket sound like a hissyfit. And yes, the Andrew WK remix “Wolf Eyes Rule (What Kinda Band)” is included, though its palm-muted guitar chugging and sub-Anthrax quasi-rapping are somewhat incongruous in this context. Oh well, at least he’s using his major label millions to plug obscure industrial noise bands instead of purchasing countless three-packs of white Hanes undershirts.

The main problem here is the medium. This is nails-on-a-chalkboard music, best enjoyed by the average listener in small doses. Now I’m not one of those analog purists who insists that everything sounds better when etched into vinyl, but there’s occasionally something to be said for the inherent limitations of the 7-inch format, both in terms of sound quality and length. This is the ideal music for the 7-inch, a compact endurance test or a “just visiting” pass to the insane asylum. Something, whether technological or psychological, about the clean luster of the CD takes the edge off of music. It’s difficult to imagine who would sit down and listen to two CDs worth of Bulb’s noise straight through, other than an obsessive or a masochist. The purpose seems to be more to rescue these songs from being lost or destroyed (a valiant goal in itself) than to create a listenable whole. But on the other hand, the convenience of these compilations makes them somewhat comforting to possess: the most extreme of the extreme contained in a handy plastic package. And as a celebration of ten years of Bulb Records, what more could you want?

By Nick Ammerman

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