Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Craig Leon - Nommos

Craig Leon

Released 1981 on Takoma
Reviewed by Lugia, 18/03/2005ce

Craig Leon: "Nommos"
Takoma Records TAK 7096, released 1981.

Side 1:
1) Ring with Three Concentric Circles
2) Donkeys Bearing Cups
3) Nommo

Side 2:
1) Four Eyes to See the Afterlife
2) She Wears a Hemispherical Skull Cap

Most people should recognize the name of this artist. However, most people will recognize the name of this artist when it's paired with a production credit, not as...well, the artist. Craig Leon is, of course, one of the seminal NYC punk/New Wave producers who brought us so many excellent things from that scene, ranging from Suicide to Blondie. And he's continued his production work on up to the present day, of course.

Still, very few people know about the electronic albums he's made himself. And that's a shame, because they're fine, fine drone-a-delic stuff. Especially his first, "Nommos".

Used as a soundtrack for a dance work by Twila Tharp (as was a lot of nifty NYC stuff from this general period), "Nommos" is supposedly based on African rhythms and the like. But really, it's always reminded me more of some sort of missing link between the proto-industrial rhythm and drone of Suicide and the whole minimalist drone/static/repetition method as in Terry Riley, LaMonte Young, etc. You've got the rhythm generator thing going on. You've got the synthdrones. You've got the constant repetition. The whole hypnotic but not necessarily relaxing vibe.

Much of the album uses the nifty-but-simple trick of 'comb filtering' to make the drums/rhythm box 'ring' on a certain pitch. And then over this, Leon builds up layers of more drones. And more. And even more. And then sometimes, as in "Donkeys Bearing Cups", also adds a bunch of evil, headwarping processing to this. End result: hypno-brainmelt.

On the first side of this, both "Ring..." and "Donkeys..." are fairly fast-paced affairs, constantly rhythmically pulsing, droning, buzzing...like the discoid equivalent of some mutation of LaMonte Young's "The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys" pieces. But "Nommo" slows things way down, with this discontinuous, jerky, almost bluesy-type beat, over which everything just slowly builds chordally, like some weird heat-mirage architecture. It's a serious eyes-roll-back-in-head sort of thing...blissy, hypnotic...off in a 'kosmische' sort of zone, but at the same time not really having that 'kosmische' sound to it.

Side two kicks off with a harsh, bzzzaaating rhythm, also jerky, and incomplete-sounding. But in this case, instead of building up a chord, Leon builds the components of the rhythm pattern. One bit here, another bit off in the reverb zone out there somewhere, and so on as this insectoid buzz-hum starts to key up and ripple away, a bit disquietingly perhaps. Then a voice...an actual voice, yes...and then another, joins this, sometimes tunelessly, making odd birdcall-like sounds, ahhs, wails, vocal line fragments, and so on. Whoever's doing this isn't credited, but I can say that it reminds me some of Meredith Monk's 'primal-vocal' type work. Eerie, spacy...quite trippy.

Then BAM!!! suddenly we're dropped without warning into the fast, frantic rhythm-box groove of "She Wears a Hemispherical Skull Cap". It's abrupt, almost startling, because you get locked into the former and chucked headlong into this. But as a chordal, hymnlike polysynth starts to arch over this, you just sit back and go 'yeahhhh....' as the dronebliss just washes over you in one long I-chord being played out and with.

There's things here that, like I said, remind one straightaway of Suicide. But it's never really as abrasive an experience as Martin Rev's great work with that duo. Instead, it's more blissed-out. You could also draw some comparisons with some of the more 'motorik' Kraut stuff; there's a sonic kinship here with, say, Cluster's "Zuckerzeit". But it's the obvious minimal/drone school linkages that really draw things together here, from the buzzdrone beats to the washing chords and hummmmmmmming synths. Head music? Oh, yes...yes, indeedy. But also, the sort of 'head' music that anyone with an astute ear for an electronic beat can gravitate to.

As for where to get this these days...no idea. It's odd that Takoma, which is usually known for folk-type releases, put this out, because it's about as antithetical to a folksy-sounding record as one can get. But it's very much worth hunting down if you're into the robotiker groove-trance brainhum sound it's got.

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