To Live and Shave in LA

(Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
30-minuten Maennercreme (1994), 5/10
Vedder Vedder Bedwetter (Fifth Colvmn, 1995), 7/10
An Interview with the Mitchell Brothers (1995), 5/10
God and Country Rally! (1996), 6/10
Where a Horse Has Been Standing and Where You Belong (1998), 5/10
The Wigmaker in Eighteenth Century Williamsburg (2002), 8/10
Horoscopo (2006), 6/10
Noon and Eternity (2006), 7.5/10
Les Tricoteuses (2007), 6.5/10
Each Day Vomits Its Tomorrow (2008), 6/10
Merely Resurrected (2008), 5/10
Les Poisons Delectables (2008), 6/10
The Cortege (2011), 5/10
As Gods Are Skinned (2019), 6.5/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

To Live and Shave in LA, originally the Miami-based trio of Tom Smith (formerly of Boat Of between 11979 and 1983 and of Peach Of Immortality until 1991 in New York), bassist Frank Falestra (future organizer since 2004 of the legendary annual International Noise Conference) and electronic musician Ben Wolcott, indulged in savage noisescapes on the four-song EP Spatters of a Royal Sperm (1992) and on 30-minuten Maennercreme (Love Is Sharing Pharmaceuticals, 1994), which contains 40 brief episodes of dissonant feral punk-rock madness performed with Harry Pussy's guitarist Bill Orcutt and drummer Adris Hoyos (Pictures at an Exhibition is the closest thing to a song). The Tall Ma'rib with Coalition Skin (2016) document live performances from 1992-93.

Vedder Vedder Bedwetter (Fifth Colvmn, 1995) offered another dose of musical insanity but with more recognizable songs, although drenched in a cacophony of guitar and electronics Shits Upon the Debris and Burns and Seconds Off Your Ass sound like an alien version of the irreverent anti-aesthetics of the Holy Modal Rounders. But occasionally, like in The Sink Mentioned in the Scriptures, the approach sounds serious and dramatic enough to warrant the status of a dialogue between human and machine, not the usual idealized kind of dialogue but one in which humanity is reduced to a beastly terror and machinery is an ugly mess of faulty circuits. The singing is not terribly important when it's buried under layers of evil noise like in In Such Wise She Cannot Stir and Like the Two-Part Nod, songs where cubism and Dada converge into a complete negation of music. It wasn't just cacophony: it was cacophony with a bombastic and hysterical production, influenced by the hip-hop productions of the Bomb Squad for Public Enemy.

Then came An Interview with the Mitchell Brothers (Audible Hiss, 1995), conceived and recorded in just one day, and a relatively more "normal" album: nine songs that last between four and five minutes. But no highlight.

God and Country Rally (The Smack Shire, 2004), recorded in 1996, would be released only 8 years later. Despite featuring the same power-trio of Smith, Falestra and Wolcott as well as usual guests like percussionist Nondor Nevai and guitarist Bill Orcutt, the album feels much less extreme, with a lot of gentle (not raging) cacophony. The peak of insanity is probably Zum Astrologen, but there is little of the bombastic punk energy of Vedder Vedder Bedwetter.

Les Tricoteuses (Savage Land, 2007), recorded in 1997 but released only ten years later, recast the story of An Interview with the Mitchell Brothers into the horrors of the French Revolution. The 16-minute Too Much Kif is a collage of maimed, chopped up, squeezed and distorted "music" but it is organized as a narrative, albeit de-facto a wordless narrative because whatever story existed has been mercilessly annihilated. Smith's studio editing favors a manic form of cut-up, resulting in a stuttering effect with bursts of electronics. At its best, this technique creates the extreme tension of Ed Karsh on the Brink and Muddied Died Dum where the collisions are violent and angst-filled. At the other extreme, the 12-minute Bursts Sedate is mostly a relatively calm bluesy piece sandwiched between neurotic (vocal and electronic) shrieks. Smith sings for real also in Dry Hustle, although in a grotesquely tragic manner, as if in a really bad Broadway musical; and the accompaniment is subliminal, the opposite of the usual explosive barrage of noise. Equally subtle is the eight-minute Spinning Throat with its psychedelic multiplication of dilated voices over a sparse instrumental layer. The Beaver County's Ironclad There is much to absorb, each piece being painstakingly assembled for maximum psychological impact.

Meanwhile, Smith was working on The Wigmaker in Eighteenth Century Williamsburg and two collections of leftovers from the still unreleased masterpiece saw the light: Where a Horse Has Been Standing and Where You Belong (Western Blot, 1998) and the EP Tonal Harmony (Betley Welcomes Careful Drivers, 1997). More leftovers, recorded in 1998, surfaced on the 18-minute Objects of Timeless Validity (2015).

Smith also collaborated with Duotron, on Duotron Vs Tom Smith (1997), remixing some of his compositions.

The cassettes Her-Her (1995), Vixens of the Mortal Ring (1998) and Vixens Of The Mortal Ring (1998) document live performances.

Amour Fou On The Edge Of Misogyny (Gods Of Tundra, 2001), recorded in 1998, was a collaboration with electronic musician Billy Taylor.

The 56-minute Nothing Fixed (recorded in 2001, released in 2015) documents Smith's tape experiments at home while he was starting Ohne with Swiss noise artist Dave Phillips and other Swiss musicians over the Internet, just before the release of their album Ohne 1 (2002).

The double-disc The Wigmaker in Eighteenth Century Williamsburg (Menlo Park, 2002), recorded over the course of seven years, is perhaps their definitive work, their most relentless assault on the hearing system. The chaotic collage of Blandina Oberwilding '77 recalls the Fugs' Virgin Forest, with drummer Weasel Walter of the Flying Luttenbachers unleashing torrential randomness, plenty of atonal saxophone and a carnage of vocal samples. A visceral, punk kind of rage animates vomiting electroacoustic nightmares like Full-Choke Wigmaker's Vise. The mellower moments are Residents-style zombie litanies drenched in noise like Nor Swollen-Bellied Comet Blown. Tortillon Fluff sounds like a Frank Zappa rock opera grotesquely remixed by a chimp left alone in the studio; and When My Rifle Went Sour with Preposterous Headdress like a maniacally sped-up Captain Beefheart song; and Song of Roland a Single Corkscrew Curl like an overdosed Kim Fowley singing along Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Fills Mouth and Cunt with "Pathetic Route" could be a hyper-psychedelic freak-out by disciplies of Red Crayola broadcast through broken loudspeakers; and Veit Harlan, Brown Dress Bob like Throbbing Gristle's industrial music remixed by a serial killer. Wildly distorted vocal declamations like The Notorious D-1 and D-2, To Backstab to Schism and The Famous Mad Bronze are the rap equivalent of a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo on steroids. Not everything works. Dada for the sake of Dada (New Poem Dramatized for Lux Cudgel, Loudspeakers for the Poet's Famous Disques) is not Dada. But where it works it's the musical equivalent of a nuclear apocalypse. Ben Wolcott on the oscillators is particularly lethal. Witness how he buries songs like Displaced by Double Bed and Bled Into Minar Thirsty-Aught under incandescent lava.

The EP Unattainable Regret (2003) was an amusing experiment of anti-plunderphonics: five albums (by Negative Reaction, Jac Berrocal, AMM, Throbbing Gristle, and the Live at Target compilation) compated and remixed to become five brief compositions. The 20-minute piece of the EP A Drained Panorama (recorded in 2003, released in 2015) was another Smith experiment of mixing and remixing several sources, in this case bass sections from the album Peter Criss vs Peter Christopherson, electronic sections from Wigmaker and his own vocals from Vedder Vedder Bedwette.

Falestra, Weasel Walter, Nandor Nevai and Misty Martinez formed To Live And Shave in LA 2, documented on 300 Trillion Dollar Protrusion (recorded in 2000 but released in 2007). Gerard Klauder too started a To Live And Shave in LA clone, ironically titled Tom Smith vs. Squarepusher (2000) despite not featuring Smith. Other clones surfaced in different places: Born in East LA, TLASILA1975, I Love LA, etc.

TLASILA's terroristic career resumed with Horoscopo (Blossoming Noise, 2006), on which Smith remixed and rearranged old material as eight mostly instrumental compositions of musique concrete (somehow dedicated to Moliere).

Noon and Eternity (Menlo Park, 2006), with Andrew W.K. on drum-machine, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth on guitar and Don Fleming of B.A.L.L., contains four lengthy compositions in that calmer free-form electroacoustic vein. This Home and Fear (24:25) is basically a long theatrical recitation whose accompaniment alternate following the fervor of the singing: first ambient, then thundering rock, at times shrill industrial. Early 1880s (19:23) is even slower, beginning with raga flavors and then sulfuric miasmas, indulging in vocal noises over a lethargic rhythm before ending in neurotic tension. The vocals are more distorted and mixed with louder electronic sounds and a Velvet Underground-ian boogie rhythm in Percent Obstruct Street (13:09), the rare occasion in which the rhythm is prominent. There is even a real melodic theme in Mothers Over Silverpoint (9:32), Smith's peak of pathos yet, a gloomy John Cale-esque ode wandering over a desolate soundscape of smoldering ruins. This was a very different incarnation of TLASILA: the cacophony was functional to Smith's theatrical melodramas.

Smith also formed Miss High Heel in Chicago with Weasel, Azita of the Scissor Girls, Jodie M'Kahn of Duotron, Nandor Nevai, and other Chicago musicians. Their album The Family's Hot Daughter (2008) was influenced by black metal.

Smith moved to Germany and continued to use the same moniker for the cassette Les Poisons Delectables (Tanzprocesz, 2008). The extended eclectic vocal manipulations of Actaea Pachypoda (13:12) are pushed to the extreme in Gastrolobium Grandiflorum (14:27) until they become pure electronic dust. Laburnum (14:44), the standout, is a dizzying collage of voices, percussion and electronics. If Eranthis Hyemalis (11:51) is rather trivial, the dense chaos of Ageratina Altissima (14:42) becomes hypnotic at times.

The 27-minute Le Ceneri di and the 20-minute Like Many Painters of Her Generation (2008) were included in split albums. The former is a confused and lo-fi recording, but the latter is a major work, a dynamic fantasia for subhuman chanting and electronic hissing.

Dilema de Cerrajeria (2010), Contracting the Void with Premonitions of the Other (2013) and Konstriktion und Narzissmus (2008) document live performances of 2008. The cassette Chorea Vinyl (Karl Schmidt Verlag, 2012) documents a 2008 performance by Smith with three electronic musicians.

The three-disc Die Fehde des Gemischs (2009) was "assembled from 1,118 TLASILA blog uploads produced between 2007-2009".

The cassette Each Day Vomits Its Tomorrow (Anti-Everything, 2008) and the LP Merely Resurrected (Heavy Psych, 2008) document the expanded line-up of Smith, Wolcott, Falestra, guitarist Chris Grier, Graham Moore and Andrew "Gaybomb" Barranca. The former contains two lengthy compositions: the uninspired The Endless Ecstasy of the Intransmissible (29:45) and The Incurable Convalescence (30:10), whose clownish surrealism, videogame-inspired sections and massive clusters of industrial distortion create a sort of stream of consciousness. The latter is a 40-minute collage of industrial noise with the usual high-speed whirling fragments, but several sections feel redundant.

Rope Cosmetology was the quintet of Tom Smith Tim Lane Seaton, Ryan Parrish, Feri Kovacs and Balazs Pandi, documented on the double-disc Spezial Gedankengefuege/ Compound Thought (2009), on Discoteca Festival (2009), on the live Diffusion de la rue de la Double Identite' (2009), on the live Hinterzimmer-Apotheke (2009), on The Honey Fox in Hare's Longing (2011), on Disunion Strips (2012) and on the double-LP Asphyx (Magic Bullet), remixed by Weremeth Wollf as After Paul Died, His Double Married (2013).

The Cortege (Thick Syrup, 2011) contains eleven more regular "songs".

The six-disc box-set The Death (Karl Schmidt Verlag, 2013) compiles several live performances.

Grier died in 2014. He had played in Scarcity of Tanks with Minutemen's bassist Mike Watt and in Scott Verrastro's Kohoutek.

Smith remixed 300 Trillion Dollar Protrusion (originally recorded without him) and obtained the 52-minute 300 Trillion Dollar Protrusion (2015).

Apfel - Messer - Fliege (Barn, 2015) documents the European-based quartet of Smith, jazz pianist Matt Mitchell, and electronic musicians Graham Moore and Patrick Spurlock.

La Reprimande (2012), Unwept to Meet Strange Clay (2015), The Soundtrack to My Life Would Be "Dream On" by the Ringmaster (2015), On Stage I Feel My Character Is Called a Whore (2015) and The Propagation of Negation Volumes 1 & 2 (Karl Schmidt Verlag, 2017) document live performances.

As Gods Are Skinned (Independent Woman, 2019), originally recorded in 2015-16, also featured performance artist Lucas Abela next to the core quartet of Smith, Falestra, Graham Moore and Balazs Pandi. The style is a continuation of the avant-lied of Noon and Eternity: the cacophony is functional to Smith's austere and tragic crooning. The format is particularly effective in the ten-minute The Clot, in which his gloomy Nick Cave-like declamation benefits from the disorienting industrial soundscape, leading to unbearable degrees of tension.

Tom Smith died in 2022.

(Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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