ZE Records is back, only this time it is should just be called E Records. The label was formed in 1978 by Michael Zilkha and Michael Esteban. In 2003, Michael Esteban, now living in his native France, re-launched the label without his old partner.
I am glad to have this label back in operation, and can't wait to hear the records ZE released that I was too young (and too close minded as a rule abiding punk rocker) to enjoy when they first came out.
New York's No Wave movement has always been a special time to me. The music was crazier than any time since, and the Lower East Side was completely untamed. As a teenager growing up in NY's Long Island, I had the chance to experience many great shows. Unfortunately, the No Wave sound was poorly chronicled in records. Most of the bands were too short lived, too poor, or just not together enough to record and release records, or even singles.
The two artists that managed to release tons of stuff and have it sound great were Lydia Lunch and James Chance.
Lydia Lunch was immortalized by 2 separate Dead Boys songs - Caught With The Meat In Your Mouth and I Need Lunch - but her real claim to fame was her band, Teenage Jesus & The Jerks. They were so intense that they scared people. Only three people, and sounds like you had never heard (or thought you wanted to) before.
James Chance played in The Jerks for a time, but his claim to fame was the band he fronted, The contortions. He had a pompadour haircut and was frequently sporting genuine black eyes. He used to taunt audiences until they would hit him. I once saw him pull the hair of a suburban (bridge and tunnel set, like myself) girl sitting with her boyfriend in the front row at Max's - a mistake - and her boyfriend punch James Chance in the face, just like James wanted his to do (don't know why).
I had hoped that this compilation would expose me to some recordings that had surfaced during the years, but most of this record is James and Lydia. In fact, James Chance plays on 8 of the 22 songs, and Lydia plays on 6. However, I had totally missed out on Rosa Yemen / Lizzy Mercier Descloux, and had never hear the Arto / Neto tracks.
I like this compilation. It is very listenable, not all noise, as some people may have told you.
- Control Yourself - James White & The Blacks James Chance recorded the first version of this song with The Contortions, then re-recorded it with his "disco" band James White & The Blacks. Quite killer, and unlike any disco I have ever heard.
- Wawa - Lizzy Mercier Descloux An instrumental that has a sound that Glasgow bands such as Yummy Fur made their own in the late 90s.
- Lady Scarface - Lydia Lunch I don't know HOW Lydia Lunch pulled off putting such a great sounding track together. If you have every read Andrew Vashss, this song has ALL the danger and NY street that any of Vachss gritty crime fiction novels of Burke every had. A total, complete jewel and a joy to listen to.
- Mister Ray - Suicide I am glad they included this track instead of one of the well known Suicide songs. This song is about getting hassled by the Police.
- 3E - Mars One of my all time favorite 7inch records is the 3E single by Mars. Its appeal has remained steadfast through post-punk, indie rock, and every other musical fad that has passed since its 1979 release. Everything is right in this song. I LOVE the guitar, the bass, the drum and the vocal.
- Closet - Teenage Jesus & The Jerks The studio version (with James Chance on sax) of o song from the 'No New York' compilation Island released, composed of live recordings and produced by Eno.
- Rosa Vertov - Rosa Yemen 2 tracks of guitar with no effects, and Lizzy Mercier Descloux (Rosa Yemen) signing manically in French. No drums, no bass, and not much noise, but plenty of energy.
- Pini, Pini - Arto / Neto A collaboration between Arto Lindsay (DNA) and Seth Tillett. A story told by Arto, to sporadic scratched out guitar bursts and a basic drum beat.
- Torso Corso - Lizzy Mercier Descloux Almost pop, although pop performed close to the edge of a ridge of your choice. Everything is well performed and pleasant to listen to, but there is danger - a danger you can feel as the song abruptly stops after 1:43. What happened?
- Almost Black - James White & The Blacks Both Lydia Lunch and Anja Phillips make this song a kick, as they trade observances of the boy they like.
- 11,000 Volts - Mars The B-side of the 3E single. The voice brings the listener straight into a world of the wasted, just as Patti Smith tried on the song Radio Ethiopia. Where 3E was focused and driving, 11,000 Volts can barely get up.
- Mechanical Flattery - Lydia Lunch Lydia's voice is cracking left and right, and the lyrics describe what I imagine it feels like to take LSD in the city.
- Decryptated - Rosa Yemen An instrumental with guitars that sound like they are being picked at like I type - with one finger and the thumb of each hand. The sound of 2 guitars and drums played with hands (no sticks) could be hollow, but when this song ends after 1:20 you will wish it went on longer.
- Empty Eyes - Teenage Jesus & The Jerks Lydia Lunch sounds like the boss of an out of control world. I think of the horror film From Beyond, just like when I think of the Atlanta GA band Pineal Ventana. Both bands seem to see into another dimension and not be intimidated a bit.
- Designed To Kill - The Contortions With no doubt I can tell you that my favorite guitarists are the 2 guys in The Ex and the 2 guitarists in The Contortions - Jody Harris and Pat Place. These players create their own chords and go beyond where other players go, yet make tight music that can be listened to and enjoyed countless times.
- Malu - Arto / Neto As opposed to the early Arto / Neto piece, the vocal on Malu sounds barely conscious
- Less Of Me - Teenage Jesus & The Jerks A different version (with James Chance on sax) of the B-side of the first Teenage Jesus & The Jerks 7inch Orphans. I wish they had the version from the single, but that 7inch was not on ZE. It came out in 1978 on Lust/Unlust. Another single that needs to be re-issued is the first DNA single You and You b/w Little Ants, also on Lust/Unlust Records.
- Larousse Baron Bic - Rosa Yemen The vocals are bizarre. They sound hiccupped out of her. The song works very well for all of its short 1:30 length.
- That's When Your Heartaches Begin - James Chance & Pill Factory It sounds like a Contortions song, but Pill Factory were a project that included Arto Lindsay (guitar/DNA), Bradley Field (drums/Teenage Jesus & The Jerks) and Georges Scott (bass/Contortions). James Chance's vocals are insane at times on this track.
- Herpes Simplex - Rosa Yemen 2 minutes of well structured nervousness.
- Twice Removed - The Contortions When The Contortions were playing anything seemed possible. Twice Removed has everything I loved about them, and keeps James Chance's saxophone at bay.
- Radiation - Suicide Suicide were a hard band to take seriously at the time - they seemed to be taking everyone in like some snake oil salesmen hawking an item that no one even wanted to hear. In 2003 they don't sound so strange. You can hear echoes of many more recent bands in the notes these two men played.