Perfect Sound Forever


photo courtesy of Menlo Park

by Kelly Burnette
(March 2003)

Perhaps the toughest thing you can do in art or anti-art (whatever the catchphrase of the day might be) is to simultaneously force yr'self into the world while sacrificing it. When Lester Bangs wrote about Iggy Stooge (and even Alice the Coop) accomplishing this, he set what was perhaps a critical precedent in what has turned out to be unpopular culture. As he pointed out, when the Stooges played, the stage was there for your taking. All you had to do was take it from Iggy. As it turned out, the only one who could accomplish that was Iggy, getting kicked around by his band mate in the gutter outside of the Whiskey- of course it was all planned, and lost, on the audience (from reports, anyway). There's a serious (ah-hem) connection here between that attitude and To Live and Shave in L.A.. There they were (there's a second manifestation w/out Tom Smith now called To Live and Shave in L.A. 2), just fuckin' daring you to take what they feigned claim steal the sun as it were. This here article focuses in on The Wigmaker in 18th Century Williamsburg (Menlo Park Recordings), the bad-ass swan-song of the meanest shit band on Earth in a long, long time.

TLASILA were Tom Smith (vocals, lyrics), Rat Bastard (bass, engineering), OM (voice and exteriors), and Ben Wolcott (oscillators and treatments). But the record included a chicken truck full of guests too many to mention here. That didn't belie the overall sound of this damaged beauty. There's a continuity on this album that is motherfuckin' confounding, because at the end you will feel less but more. You'll feel wholly amputated. The rotten sun of maniacal despair is there for your taking. Go ahead, really...

If the mouth is, as Bataille states, only latent evidence of the animality of man, then To Live and Shave in L.A. is the permanent fixture of it. They're in an eternal posture of pain and ecstasy; a constant reminder of our purer days, lording over an orgy involving everything that "evolved" man dismisses as lesser and baser. Always with their head tilted back in a painful howl their eyes are only a secondary sense organ, whether they are affixed on a bloody moon or staring belligerently into the sun. No doubt, they are the variety of, well fuck... we'll call it piss mysticism. The kind of synasthesia you might be delivered while hallucinating over a full toilet. But who wants to do that? Well, me for one.

It's always been my credo to give the dogshit his day as well as the dog and to live my life as such. While it doesn't always win you friends, you can alone console yr'self that you live with the bitter dignity of being in a constant state of having gambled everything on a hard 8 and lost. And if yr' feeling just piss-frisky that day, you'll damn well gamble it on a hard 9 for a glimpse at what our frontal lobes'll never allow. Some sort of Satanic paradise. Oh yeah, and an impossibility that only insanity and madness can characterize. And until TLASILA's The Wigmaker in 18th Century Williamsburg entered the scene finished and shrink-wrapped, I'd all but forgotten this feeling via an external other.

Thank fucking whatever it is you thank and indulge in a bygone frenzy of lust, cuckoldry, vehement and blistering words the likes of which you'll need to peel from yr' brain. The music, to relate back to the oral, is the amplified sound of teeth grinding. See here perhaps also 'oracle' (for despair and unsaintly trash) or 'orifice' as in unholy penetration or "profound physical impulses"1. The fact that it took Tom Smith five plus years to complete the mix on this record may not speak to spontaneity (read: convention), but does yell in the direction of a masterwork, of the true work of excess in all of its infernal denotations scribed by Blake and again Bataille. Think of it as a slow grinding sex act/rape of transcendence. It leaves you with the palace of sordid wisdom, AKA a brick shithouse neither in the form of woman (plane of piece) or artifice, but of mental construct; of Kali inspired creative destruction What is torn down is body, freshness of mind, petering pretenses about noise. What is built up is ROCK, virility, transgression and waste. This music is closer to metal than noise or any pre-conceived blather about theory and any ironic post-modern reclamation project of what was rock. It is, to put it bluntly, the only true rock and roll record of at least the last decade, perhaps longer. I ain't talking about resurge, but instead about primordial regurge.

It seemed like the last 20 or so years, up until the release of Wigmaker, that folks have fervently tried to recapture the search and destroy essence of rock. Whether it was Mudhoney wailing over "you want my dick and you know it" lyrics, the Mummies or Tom's once cohorts Pussy Galore, nothing ever quite ascended the dark pyramid of orange-eyed ferocity like humanity saw toward the end of status-quo rock. Punk reclaimed it a few times here and there and the good ones appropriately released it. There have been some noise projects and sidestream shit that have taken a glance in the direction of the Solar Anus, but none have to my mind blindly stuck their tongue in the hole and kept it there a while. This shit is supposed to leave a bad taste in yr' mouth. And it does.

What Wigmaker concedes that no other will is that to take form, it has to blatantly reject it. Where other groups have taken up the rock pose, or the anti-pose, none have ever quite acquiesced to the miasma like Shave. By admitting as much, they alone have breathed new fire into the face of rock's extensive establishment. That's been a long time coming. They're so goddamned contradictory. They'll never be reconciled by words or abstractions. And it's their forthright middle finger pressed in the lost face of irony that somehow lends shape to their hostile purity.

And what about irony? Sometime in '90's, Tom and Debby Richardson did a queer little duet in Atlanta2. It was a genuine love song, an intended moratorium for irony. Why? Well, I can't speak for either of them, but I have my own suspicions. Where irony was once THE satirical tool to lash back at convention, it has been usurped and is now convention (kinda like rock, no?) These things happen. No surprise there. But, like any astute critic, to keep the dialectic turning you have to take a stance against something. And there's no better meat for the crosshairs these days than irony. As a conceptual tool, the meaning has been all but lost in the hands of 'misunderstood' musicians everywhere. The hacks will toy with it all the time, putting it in service to their (really horrible) songs of high school alienation. You know: "He's the quarterback, he's popular." I don't know why that song from '90's airwaves came to me out of the fucking MILLIONS of other shards of refuse, but it did. Insert any of that tripe if ya want. Well, given the choice between the quarterback and whoever the hell penned that little gem, who would you choose to hang out with? Monday Night Football, anyone? And I'm not even gonna get into what's-her-name from Canada. You at least have to understand what the term irony means to qualify for this caning.

So let it go down here that any consequential and vicious use of irony is, for the time being, set aside due to its now over-exposed effeteness. That TLASILA have arrived and exploded (in their lineup on Wigmaker anyway) is important for our culture. Their existence was a double penetrating prick of hyper-awareness. Kids today (and their rock culture) increasingly take a jaded stance sans experience. What results is fascicle cynicism cultivated by a bunch of spoiled shit-headed pubescent twerps (Limp Bizkit, yes... Eminem, Slipknot... you name it, they all suck). The whining is non-stop, in the form of so-called extreme 'lifestyles,' purveyed by sell-out hip-hopsters, rap-rockers and the like (do I really need to mention more names?). What we're left with is a pool of jackass brats who substitute expletives without weight for meaning. What that means for someone like Tom Smith is that he's mostly slingin' verbiage like cinder blocks in a maternity ward. This of course actually assumes that the masses might listen to Shave's masterful wreckage. And I know that kind of assumption is so far-fetched, so unlikely. And it only bolsters the argument that, when faced with real attitude motive and emotions, these sissies and pixies will go running for mom. Precious, indeed! My inclination to make the comparison is probably a gargantuan mistake anyway. Why bother, right? Well, somebody has to say it. Look back on the record in 15 years. If ya like it, you'll still be playing it. No worry.

But yeah, if you believe that this rock has any cultural importance at all like me, then Wigmaker is a very important record. You probably wouldn't be reading this if you didn't. There are a lot of bands that are heavy and harsh, that break down barriers of song and jazz convention. But as far as dealing strictly within the realm of rock itself, none accomplishes what Wigmaker does. If anything comes close in my mind it may be the Strangulated Beatoffs or Caroliner. And while there are certain comparisons that can be made, the Shave have their own little dirty corner of the squat marked. Nobody can or wants to invade their space littered with entrails and cum. Quite simply, nobody can. TLASILA are the true spirit of Saturnalia, updated with nail guns replacing shit and rotted fruit (though they have plenty of that too).

I don't want to give the impression here that TLASILA are only a distraction or holiday. Far from it. It's so much more. The deliria brought forth by Smith and company is the kind brewed from self-imposed prisons, and the rage and sonic black elliptical bricks-on-fire produced by the destruction of those walls. It isn't a reaction as such. It just isn't 're.' As it states at the top of the liner notes, "This is PRE. The Story is True." What that 'pre' means is probably multiple in its aims. I feel sure for my mind that it's a blast at post-modernism, at post-anything. And it takes someone like Tom Smith to make such a claim. He wouldn't wear anything BUT arrogance well. But under the heading of 'pre,' I would also point out that it certainly isn't 're' either. Gotta do the fucker justice.

Now... whether or not there's a solid narrative or story here, well, I don't know. What is fascinating is Smith's adoption or take on an almost neo-classical form for framing his words. You might at first reject the idea of PRE, citing this usage. But the words are thoroughly contemporary. If the form occasionally glances back over the shoulder, it is more incisive satire than deconstructive. You better believe that... if you don't believe anything else I've written. I love this record because it screams, "Derrida is dead and I'm fucking glad he is". Let's just hope the students at Yale and Harvard leave this one alone so as not to be sullied by less than straightforward intentions. And oh shit, I've revealed my prejudice. I truly apologize. (belch)
By To Live and Shave in L.A.
Lyrics: Tom Smith

Flaming out of your stumps and knots
Mouthing the penis of an optimist
Heard his Dublin days of joy propos'd
Failed to double-glass the count-struck soil
An unbroken suck of dreadful darts
Bled sharpshod into "Minar thirty-aught"
It meant killing to clothe a black-boiled drop
Flame out beyond your pop-eye props

Nerves are gone, teeth a bloody blot
Corss hair, lock-tight thirty-aught...

Painted drapes, the sweat and shit
Thirty-aught fell astride the shootist's prick
Saucer-shaped pill from a standing start
Had the feeling of death at tide-flat trot
A helpless desire maintained her tension
The cunt-struck count embraced convention
Meant killing to clothe a withered plot
The absolut writhes through thirty-aught

Nerves are gone, teeth a bloody blot
Swished gold cope crop like a three-oh-aught...

Flame out beyond your dreadful darts
Bled cunt-struck cop into thirty-aught...

By To Live and Shave in L.A.
Lyrics by: Tom Smith

Heat is the color of neutral desire
Her presence queered his well-groomed carrion calyx
Formed by its tumbling twigs...
My soothing words and numbing milligrams
Bald man in center the bride of Christ
First voice uncovers this defect.
Dishtowel dismissed as a union jack
Fuzzed like a gracile australopith
The greatest robbery of strictly pedestrian prose
Comb-like and fan-like fronds and screw pines
The herald's head fed to the shredder
Fouled roadbeds and butchered culverts
Bared his black gums and his lacquered hole
And his sop-trap tongue-clack foil...

Let them stew in their juices and rot
Burned in their hovels, coked by bombs
Blandina dipped them all in (her) excrement
Kissed their wide ouths with pooched, leper's lips

Barbed her coke-black bride of sixty-five fits
Her fucked face running with bad lipstick!
So, maker her cry if the blood gushes--
Let them stew in her tender rushes--

Let's go on. If any band's music epitomizes the so-ugly-it's-pretty theory, then it's Shave. They possess that kind of repugnance. But even as I write this I cringe a bit. I don't want to give the impression that this music is in any way beautiful. It isn't. Not in my most sincere moments of aggravated abstraction could or should I ever make that claim. Not only would it be an injustice to a masterpiece, I would just be perverting it for some vestige of romanticism still souring inside of me. And for fuck's sake, NO-body needs that, last of all myself. So I'll retract that original assertion at the beginning of this paragraph. OK, good.

At the opening of the record, "Travelogue One" where we are introduced to some ripped off bass riffing (I guess), our narrator tells us that he and his wife Mildred are venturing to Williamsburg for a vacation- a city that has "turned back the pages of time, to the 18th century." From this quasi-surreal launching pad, we are thrust into tempest of sound and words that steal, beg, borrow and emblazon. It seems that every passion is exposed and degraded herein. Every truth or institution trampled and pissed on. Any sense of convention disgraced and travestied. The words seem to float across the maelstrom of noise and pastiched musi, tortured and hovering like a sick poltergeist, at once commenting and narrating like only true poetry can. It's a puncture wound. It's a hole through yr' head. It's a huge line of bombed and burning acreage or your brain. This album goes where no other has. Period. Tom's hankering and haranguing libretto is filled with a rare desperation that only a few have succeeded in voicing. But as soon as you hear his uneven vibrato swooping from the ceiling straight to hell, the lucidness of his despair and fury become all too real. Some of the vocal treatments are bare bones supernatural, evil. Fuck, if I believed it, I'd say he channeled something. Remember in the Exorcist when Regan was on the bed with the word HELP carved into her belly? Neurotic doesn't begin to describe this shit. And I mentioned treatments. Not only is his naked voice infernal inspiration but the moments of engineering where the vocals are treated are depraved by any standards. They're chopped, separated, pornographic (both explicitly and socially) and schizophrenic. The distortions, which are often offset from the same lyric and panned jam fright straight down yr' gullet. Those fireballs will choke and burn. If you have kids, just don't listen to this while they're in the house.

As for the music, it's an emotion turned dung stew of past elements of Tom's career. Punk, rock, noise (Peach of Immortality, his former band with the unforgettable album title 'Jehovah' My Black Ass - REM Is Air Supply!). It's all stirred in with seeming calculated abandon and premeditated frenzy. If this record was improv, it wasn't at the time it hit the street.

On a personal note, thank you for that, TLASILA. Christ, have we not seen the weak end of so-called free improv yet? The Shave ain't free and understand the alchemy of true conflict. They not only undermine every contemporary brainless practitioner of free improv operating today, they soil it before they give it a burial at the local treatment plant. They, to put it kindly, highlight the weakness, the lack of inspiration and just plain low badness of the endless streams of shit improv today. Tom is notorious in his hatred of Borbetomagus and Merzbow. I don't know what his reasons are. Maybe he just thinks they're weak. There's no mistaking that everyone who worked on this record worked toward a common aim of upset, distrust, insanity and sonic violation. These guys never did take lightly the inspired madman. And it shows like white light at the end of yr' bed. The sound is jagged and sharp, alternately dense and paper thin, relentlessly building gallows behind Tom's spew and erudite slobber. It's especially brilliant in the contrast it brings to the fore, at times phased out white noise bolting from speaker to speaker, other times unclad, untreated sax blurting sophomorically over bass and metallic squeals. But you'll also find rudimentary, moronic DJ extractions, hard motherfucking repetitious guitar riffs with vocal samples from the high cock rock period. You may hear alternating electronic amplified transistor drones, frosted with something meant not for soft cones. The mix on the entire record is brilliant, inconsistent, oscillating and protruding. The trickery is here and while it sounds reptilian and deprived, it's actually sophisticated in its realm. And the way you now hear distorted vocals around every corner at Disneyworld, you'll be hearing the influence of this job of fore by Rat Bastard and OM. Britney Spears will be turning tricks.

There is an undeniable lust of violence on this record. It seems to present it as perhaps its only solution, a no-way-out Catch 22. However, I don't think it is the same take on violence as say Joe Coleman takes. That's such a fucking obvious and "pathetic route" anyway. If you're familiar with Coleman, he claims that if he wasn't blowing up animals, then he would be killing humans. I'm not even going to begin to rip him here (an obvious and easy target if there ever was one). I'm only bringing him up for contrast. The violence that TLASILA produce is a more significant, more cosmic violence. Where in those moments we gain considerable meaning in transgression, the spirit of Shave is present somewhere. Like the blasphemous stories of Kan Mikami, there's a feeling of unity, of self-sustaining meaning of and unto itself here- an acidic but stoic coda for the apocalypse. It's necessity even, in an artistic culture of shit and shadows. What maw is attractive if you don't fantasize being masticated by it? What towering building can you resist the urge from which to jump? Sure, this is an atrocity exhibition. It's an atrocity exhibition ultimate. If there were actually absolutes, this would be yr' rock to cling to, bash yr' head on, AND both. Bash yr' head. Sacrifice.


 1. "This fact highlights both the importance of the mouth in animal physiology or even psychology, and the general importance of the superior or anterior extremity of the body, the orifice of profound physical impulses; one sees at the same time that a man can liberate these impulses in at least two different ways, in the brain or in the mouth, but that as soon as these impulses become violent, he is obliged to resort to the bestial way of liberating them." from Visions of Excess-Selected Writings 1927-1939 by Georges Bataille. Published by University of Minnesota Press.

2. Debby told me about the gig. As I recall it was a karoake affair, a straightforward cheeseball lovesong. According to her, there was no ironic intention involved. It was totally heartfelt.

Check out the Menlo Park Recordings website for ordering information for TLASILA.

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER