Angel Face—
A Wild Odyssey

Released 1985 on Pacific Productions
The Seth Man, July 2006ce
Angel Face were a five-man French band who evolved between 1974 and 1977 in their Parisian garageland with a sound suspended between Ronald Frank Asheton’s guitars on “Fun House” and (Detroit’s, not Manchester’s) The New Order playing earliest Destroy All Monsters on a shoe-strung budget that only allowed for half a pack of guitar strings if only the three-pack of ‘Normal Position’ C-60 cassettes were successfully five-finger-discounted to capture the evening’s rehearsal. After kicking around to almost no applause for nearly four stinkin’ years in an environment none too suited for their ramalama, Angel Face took the inevitable dirt nap with the fragments of its recorded legacy resigned to a couple of reel-to-reels and cassettes stored next to their prized Detroit records. For years, these recordings consequently gained in strength until former leader of the group Julien Farrey could no longer bear the angry silence seeping from his shelves so he issued a compilation of their greatest sonic spews in a sleeve every bit as black & white & red all over. It is obvious that various members were equally inspired by early British punk and BedRock’n’Roll alongside their long-standing devotion to Detroit’s greatest sonic attacks: evidenced by the back cover plastered with black and white snapshots of the band onstage and off exhibiting Detroit auras as dedications to Gene Vincent, Trans-Love Energies, John Lennon and Yoko Ono are noted underneath the track listing.

With two leather-jacketed longhairs one can only presume to be brothers Pascal and Julien Farrey, these brers fronted a furry, fuzzy froth that was not confined exclusively to Stoogeland as Pascal was a synthesizer playing bassist who would electronically unfurl at intervals, or sometimes not at all. For most of their tenure they occupied the same no-man’s land of 1974 to 1976 as The Pink Fairies prior to their one single on Stiff, and they braved it all with a similar aviator-shaded attitude of maladjusted acid punkery that saw any readjustment of image or sound as no option at all because their attitude was already leagues ahead of the tunnel-visioned punk bandwagonnaires le monde already at large in Paris. But unlike their later contemporaries formed in the wake of London punk, Angel Face never released any records during their lifetime. But that did not keep them from recording and playing live throughout their tenure, which witnessed at least three lineup shifts around the core of Riton Angel Face and the Farrey brothers; two of which are represented with one side apiece on “A Wild Odyssey.” Side A contains three tracks by the 1977 configuration: a newly-reconstituted line up featuring Riton Angel Face (rhythm guitar), Julien Farrey (fuzz guitar), Pascal Farrey (bass, synthesizer) with newcomers Eric Tendz on vocals and Straight Finger on drums. “Wolf City Blues” begins with a lone wolf howl with accompanying birdsong. Then howls some more. And again, the lone wolf keeps baying at the moon until an assembled pride starts kicking up in response, setting off the whole pack into unnerving howls. This cuts directly into a fuzz-guitar rhythm clearly aligned with the one Wire used to kick off “Reuters” on “Pink Flag” that rips out of the left channel while a sustained, under-recorded feedback salvo issues forth from the right and lead vocalist Eric Tendz is left squalling right in the middle as a bare-chested Ig-alike, doing to Iggy’s Jagger vocalisations what The Bananamen’s vocalist did to The Emperors’ “I Want My Woman.” Namely: going overboard and spazzing it up to exaggerated proportions while his own unique contribution is a high pitched retching like a squealing stuck pig at the end of every fifth verse. Tendz lets another one loose, causing the right speaker to re-erupt into a screeching wall of distinctly un-hippy wah-wah, then distortion then straight feedback that glides tautly above. It’s the outro to “1969” and it took Angel Face two guitarists to cover all of Ron Asheton’s massive terrain and they’re not holding back in the least, either -- earning both themselves and Ron one big fat solid in the process.

“12½” follows and is nearly Chrome’s “Cold Clamy Morning” as played by “Pink Flag”-era Wire and about twice as short. Tendz’s over-energised vocals cuts itself on the ever-converging sharp corners as the double guitars continue to blaze forth. A slight break in the action signals Julien Farrey to once more pull out all the stops and wail up a storm that crowds the right channel. It sez it’s peace punk and quickly, then cuts out.

“Pride” opens with a pitch-shifting synthesizer line that escalates its way up to the trance floor of the D.I.Y. department store and crashes straight through the roof as it breaks up into old-fashioned sci-fi film echo. Cutting off into a super-strangulated, mega-guttural stutter from the throat of Eric Tendz comes “AWWWWWWOOOUUGGHHH!!!” with as great an Osterbergian shriek as he can muster. Like his underwear is no longer fun to wear cuz it’s shrunk several sizes while constricting his testes to a pair of caper berries due to sweatin’ up a storm and he even tries to puncture the surrounding air just like Iggy did on “Loose” with a pair of “Woo!”s. It’s effective as hell in shoring up the double guitar barrage that leads into the main confines of “Pride”: a place where severe fuzz rhythm and wah-wah’ed, echoed distorted guitar signals wend into a vortex that wind up sucking Tendz into a fury he alone cannot control. After hearing this, I picked up the nearest atlas to double check that Paris and not Detroit was the capital of France in 1977 (Turns out it was, of course but with a blitz like this, I figured anything was possible.)

Side Z (!) shows how far Angel Face had progressed in a year’s time. Turn up the next couple of tracks, for they reside in the confines of sub-“Metallic K.O.” C-60 cassette-recorded (probably on a Scotch Highlander, natch) aesthetics that for all its low noise filtered through the scrim of mono condenser microphone hum, one robust boost of the volume improves it greatly. The first four tracks are in varying degrees of finish, from rehearsals including early fragments of “Biker’s Ride” (appearing later in its complete form as the finale and the undeniable highlight of this side) to barely-formed demos. Drummer Fred Goddard and vocalist Henri Flesh (who soon left to front French punk band 84 Flesh before going the way of all flesh) join Riton Angel Face and the Farrey brothers on “Endless Road (Cut Up Songs).” An array of abortive rehearsals and a miscellany of highlights, some of it shambling but all of it reaching outward from basement ground zero as they work it on out. After an embryonic “Biker’s Ride” and couple of quick cuts it’s suddenly tres ’77 punk with a passage that sounds like “Private World” meets “Wild Thing” meets “Vicious” in someone’s garage where they start fighting over who’s more punk. The whole collage makes “Louie Louie” seem ornate in comparison, as some ideas quickly lose gas, break down, or just thrash about in the afterbirth of its own creation, flailing on the garage floor.

For the next three songs, the recording quality tips up (but not by much) and Angel Face are here reduced to not only elemental sketches of tracks, but with the skeleton crew of R. Angel Face on vocals and guitar and Pascal Farrey handling faint, harmonic synthesizer backing. They run through three originals “I Don’t Care,” “Shadows And Lights” and “Before -- Now And After.” They are not altogether lacking in their stripped down state as much as lacking in powerful vocals and Julien Farrey’s wah-wah bombardments. Which come soon enough with the last track, “Biker’s Ride.” Saving the best for the last, “Biker’s Ride” is the result of countless hours of re-grinding it out over and over and was probably the shining moment that kept them as hard at it for as long as they did for it is epic. Disembodied voices intonate the title in zombie monotone far behind the outwardly psychedelic and brutalised cycles of punishing wah-wah abuse and buzzing rhythm guitar. Like an almighty amassing of Ron Asheton’s approaches to speakers, foot pedals and six-stringed releases on the first two Stooges albums and boiled down into a careening wall of sound, a whirlpool of patterns and gradually shifting textures applied via that trilogy of terror -- wah-wah, distortion and feedback -- to its constant rotation. And still the vocals drone on and get drowned out, nearly chanting the title whenever it feels right.

“Biker’s Ride” shoulda-coulda-but-didn’t see release; not even on Skydog. But Angel Face existed out of necessity and not fleeting fancy or fame. And since this collection came along almost a decade after it was recorded, it has and will continue to bequeath to all Rock Music fans a clutch of moments that crash and burn with freefalling, twin guitar assaults and overall savagery to blow minds, make people happy and inform the present day with how it can be done.