- Like so much of America's quick-eclipse music culture, NYC's No Wave scene provoked far more discussion and journalistic scrutiny than its short history might indicate. Drawing from that period's broad array of sounds, Notwave, a joint release between DFA and New York's Rong Music, is both an ode to the brief movement of the late '70s and early '80s and an attempt to expand upon its art-house aggression with shaky new jams of urban distemper. (Though it does feature a track from one of the period's greatest spazz groups, James Chance and the Contortions, and a remix by Liquid Liquid's Sal Principato and Dennis Young, it's, thankfully, not really another exercise in nostalgia.)
There's none of the rank assault of a band like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, for example, nor is Notwave ever as beautifully mannered as a Glenn Branca composition. Whether it's the dead-voiced rumble of early standout Quad Throw Salchow's "Unwelcome Guest" or the big-hair guitar wigout of Non-Stop's "Hydration Explosion," what Notwave does share with No Wave though, is a broad sound template, varying markedly in genre and timbre while idly reveling in its own messiness and manic pummel.
But much like its forebears, the compilation's best when it's most spiritually dissolute. Mr. Chin's "Faces Vs. Fractions (Trust)" is a blissful blur of sound, like thirteen drum sets in a room, with each given a stick to clatter and beat 'til they've all found a song. The aforementioned Principato and Young mix of Tussle's "Elephants Meandering" builds from small bell-tremors to a slurred drum assault; its electric bass, stabs of noise and random sax blurts resemble former DFA band The Rapture's earliest releases on the label. Tim Love Lee's dub of Striplight's "No Search No Entry" invokes No Wave's frenetic sense of pace, but it's all swagger, muscular room-wide bass and aggressive vocal taunts. Perhaps the most hypnotic inclusion though comes from Rub 'N'Tug's Thomas Bullock as Welcome Stranger, whose "Smoke Machine" renders the Peter Gunn theme as a scratchy dub-pop workout, a steep innerdrop of clanging metal bars, distant piano and fuzzy bass where the song's earworm melody tries to hold it all together.
At times though, the disintegrative quality that's its greatest asset leads Notwave to seem not so much like a play on 'form' or 'musicality'—one of No Wave's central achievements—but boredom given studio time. Free Blood—former !!! member John Pugh and fashion designer Madeline Davy—never find a center for the cluttered rhythms of "Weekend," and both Scotty Coats' songs lack the muscle and crude bottom of the genre's grubbiest dub tracks, leaving them limp and anonymous. Likewise, Research's "East West Axis" is neither light- or heavy-lidded enough to generate any atmosphere. By hamming it up and taking the sly wink out of Britt Daniel's original, the slutty electro of Freshro's cover of Spoon's "I Turn My Camera On" winds up too corny.
Still, in judging the full weight of this 14 track compilation, these missteps are forgivable. Notwave's not another historical snapshot like many of the other No Wave assemblies released over the years. In its attempt to revise and extend the movement's smeared craftlessness and dissonant rhythmic base though, it's a notable effort.
01. Quad Throw Salchow - Unwelcome Guest
02. Non-stop - Hydration Explosion
03. Striplight - No Search No Entry (Tim Love Lee dub)
04. Tussle - Elephants Meandering (Sal Principato & Dennis Young mix)
05. Mr. Chin - Faces vs Fractions (Trust)
06. Circuits - Pistols at Dawn (Tim 'Love' Lee's Fully Bearded mix)
07. Freshro - I Turn My Camera On
08. Welcome Stranger - Smoke Machine
09. Free Blood - Weekend
10. Scotty Coats - Beautiful Ones
11. Research - East West Axis
12. Scotty Coats - Lude Boy the Rude Boy
13. James Chance & The Contortions - King Heroin
14. Research - The River Art