Read Only Memory

Released 1979 on Siren
The Seth Man, January 2014ce
Although the final year of the seventies found Chrome still discharging audio refuse centre stage while letting it just expire and hang there as exploding, dripping and screaming mental detritus in pursuit of analogous sonic expressions, it wouldn’t be long before the far end of the tunnel into the eighties found them sonically changed forever. Where once static-y nocturnal emissions and nightmare grooves were recalled as cut-and-paste-in-the-garage sonic attacks, they became more linear and organised as Chrome’s visionary leader, Damon Edge, gradually began to redirect his vocals into something approximating crooning which was at odds with his previous mouthy replies to his fears and dreams spat out like some amphetamine zombie/pygmy/cannibal Mick Jagger scouring a contaminated landscape perforated with photocopied cut-out eyeballs poking out of every skyscraper, escalator and monitor... Underneath song titles and lyrics scrawled in Edge’s dyslectic Grecian handwriting.

Just prior to this transformation, Chrome was already down to the trio of Damon Edge (French for ‘damaged’; vocals, keyboards, found sounds) Helios Creed (Ancient Greek god of Psychedelickinesis; guitar, bass) and John L. Cyborg (Android Krautrocker; data memory). In-between their “Half Machine Lip Moves” and “Red Exposure” albums, they squeezed out the super-extended-play EP, “Read Only Memory.” Bearing little resemblance to either album it flanked, it was a one-off instrumental portal between the home-recorded-ness of the former and the air-locked grooves of the latter. While far more collaged and stripped down an event than even side two of “Half Machine Lip Moves” and more organically spaced-out than “Red Exposure,” “Read Only Memory” might be Chrome’s most unmanageable sonic discharge, ever. Despite (or because of) this, this collection of cutaways radiate a push/pull meditational charm through the power of its crazily distracted qualities, with foreshadowing, repetition and severe edits casting the proceedings into a supremely disorienting kaleidoscope. It’s even more degraded than the second side of their previous “Half Machine Lip Moves” LP, where the layers of electronic interrupti, pre-recorded paranoia and sonic flyaways were merged into actual ‘songs.’ But within the funhouse-mirrored confines of “Read Only Memory” there was no such decorum as the whole thing was set several steps beyond into alien territories of riotous interstellar pulses, abandoned synthetic treatments, shards of broken guitar FX and collages of Edge’s tape-recorded nighttime obsessions. It’s damaged, distorted and disembodied beyond belief as the wormholes in the sonic fabric just keep opening up and closing down without warning while a persistent backing (and backwards) rhythm track just keeps nudging throughout at inconsiderate intervals.

Credited on the front sleeve sticker as “Original Soundtrack From Read Only Memory,” these wayward tracks may very well have been planned as exactly that. Possibly even as accompanying music for further videos Chrome were producing at the time with Target Video that featured Edge and Helios as California droogs donning matching black derbies, suit jackets, codpieces and waders stalking empty underground stations of the San Francisco Bay Area Transit system.

The entrance into this 20-minute hyper-subterranean crawlspace is the disconcertingly entitled “You Can’t See Them -- They Can’t Touch You.” Featuring prominent backwards, aerosol-sprayed percussion and serpentine bass loop that will wind up resurfacing throughout the EP, it’s like the backing track of PiL’s “Fodderstompf” played backwards on a late seventies Realistic tape recorder miked through a tin can as nothing less than total hooliganisation of the senses that continues through sinewy streams, silvery screams, shadowy dreams and shattered seams. Ending with M.C. Escher Moog staircases into nowhere, “Inacontact” follows with Sci-fi B-film dialogue, a passage of beautiful e-guitar sparkling in echoes that twinkle out in deepest space, Moog strands, delay over everything, a snippet of manual drumming cut off by interference and yet again: that “Fodderstompf”-like rhythm section keeps on coming back punctuation after punctuation. Over this one-chamber alien heartbeat, the relentless backward pulsations pummel the piece like audio tenderizer. Soon, interferences of unused frequency are conjoined by abusive synthesizer punctuations while interruptive outbreaks of pre-recorded voices and sounds that abound and resound all over until an all-sector alert sounds off as if to signify that Chrome’s UFO has hit ‘tilt’ one too many times and therefore promptly grinds it down into the nearest hillside in halting conclusion.

The minute-long title track, “Read Only Memory,” features interstellar static, Moog Liberation flying too close to stadium lighting rigs and Helios Creed’s scrawl guitar all echoed and fragmented into glittery clusters of space-dust and electro-magnetic (im)pulsing. The backing track here will re-enter once again on the final track after the brief, “In Front Of The Crowd”: an entirely backward track which also re-reprises the rhythmic threading of “You Can’t See Them -- They Can’t Touch You” over languidly backwards spacerock guitar.

The finale is nine and half minutes of “I Am The Jaw” and feature the only vocals of the EP. Actually, Helios Creed’s matter-of-fact, megaphonic intonations are more flatly spoken recitations than anything else. With his guitar set to slow motion splintery free-fall to collide with white-noise feedbacking guitar and pulsing Moog waves, Creed’s incantations continue: “They call me cannibal, they call me a pygmy...No: I’m just a jaw…” Nervously, John L. Cyborg injects a spray of high-speed drum machine which clears the passage for aerosols to spray, stray thuds in deep echo chambers and whirring sonic shapes to whizz by until that “Fodderstompf”-ing nightmare percussion/throb bass loop re-enters, sounding like scissors being sharpened as elements shift, disappear and rearrange all around it until...silence. Just as you catch your breath, it’s sucked back out with the main theme returning as a screeching, horribly slowed and horribly wronged low intonation of the title passing by at quadrupled-slowed speed. It drops in pitch, wavers sickeningly until it wrenches back up and then back to the “Fodderstompf”-esque rhythm track as cosmic audio accumulation whirls all around backwards, forwards, sideways and anyways. After further mediations from The Jaw (“You take the dog meat/I’ll take the wife”) the consistent rhythm track consistently tramps over the lonesome guitar feedbacking that covers the pulsations from afar until “I am the jaw” is emitted for the final time. Unsure as to whether it’s meant as a warning or a threat, it’s such a mysterious and menacing statement that, like Chrome’s silent yet watchful monitors on “Alien Soundtracks,” it’s best to either accept it and hope it doesn’t ever enter your dreams as a 3D collage inside your head or just circumvent it altogether...if you can.