“The Ascension” by Glenn Branca - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1981Album Chart of the Decade: 1980s

TJR says

Just as it did with the Velvet Underground 14 years earlier, New York spawns a cutting edge debut like no other, the incomparable and influential first LP from 33-year-old avant-garde rocker Glenn Branca being delivered in November, 1981. Employing a simplified line-up in comparison to many of his jaw-dropping live-shows from the time, the composer himself plays guitar alongside three others: Ned Sublette, David Rosenbloom and Lee Ranaldo, with Jeffrey Glenn (bass) and Stephan Wischerth (drums) completing the six-man sonic-assault-team. His simple-yet-effective “ensemble of guitarists” idea explores the two joys of repetition and the cacophonic rush, very often leaving me ecstatic as a result. Titularly if nothing else, Branca dis-associates himself from rock, knowingly following in the footsteps of Olivier Messiaen (1932-33) and John Coltrane (1965-66).

Lesson No. 2” (co-written with his rhythm section) is the sequel to “Lesson No. 1” which had appeared on the previous year's debut 12" EP, and immediately sets the discordant tone, beginning in recognizable post-punk territories before brutally stabbing your rock n roll heart with angry staccato shards and evil chords. This invokes an uneasiness which continues on “The Spectacular Commodity”, a near 13-miute piece which, in the opening minutes, wouldn't sound out of place on the most violent scene of your worst horror-movie nightmare. After a super-exciting tussle, good seems to overcome evil as the piece considerably brightens in tone in the second half. Closing side one is “Structure” which, relatively speaking, gets closest to any modicum of rock normality, with Wischerth eventually being given license to freely pound his kit by the close.

Two epic suites take up the entirety of side two, beginning with the amazing “Light Field (In Consonance)”. If “The Spectacular Commodity” made us shiver before bathing us in golden rays, then “Light Field” places us on the highest plateau from the off, where there are no obstacles to our warmth. This piece truly feels like an ascension; we're practically dancing with the angels by the close of play. As it turns out, “The Ascension” itself is an altogether rougher, more turbulent affair where reality strikes as the thin air is colder and it's much harder to breathe. It's a psuedo-classical performance as dramatic and inventive as any of the greats, and one which is deserving of a standing ovation. As with the VU's debut, sales and acclaim were not in accord with the influential nature of the work, but 10,000 sales for a low-budget indie was respectable enough, and gave him encouragement that he was on the right track. An astonishing record that still provokes a reaction many decades on.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [04:59] 8.2.png Glenn Branca - Lesson No. 2 (Glenn Branca, Jeffrey Glenn, Stephan Wischerth) Avant-Garde
A2 [12:41] 9.2.png Glenn Branca - The Spectacular Commodity (Glenn Branca) Avant-Garde
A3 [03:00] 8.5.png Glenn Branca - Structure (Glenn Branca) Alternative Rock
B1 [08:17] 10.0.png Glenn Branca - Light Field (In Consonance) (Glenn Branca) Trance Rock
B2 [13:10] 9.4.png Glenn Branca - The Ascension (Glenn Branca) Avant-Garde

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