By Andrew Burton
Quick, what are three things Chrome and the Wipers have in common? If you guessed loud, awesome, and completely forgotten, you win! Bonus points go to the guy who guessed that I will be reviewing both bands’ seminal albums (Half Machine Lip Moves and Youth of America). As Chrome are slightly more awesome, they get to go first.
Half Machine Lip Moves’ proto-post-neo-psych-industrial-space-punk-synth-avant-noise-core sound is a lethal combination of Helios Creed’s scrap metal guitar tone, Damon Edge’s trashcan drums, indecipherable vocals, random synthesizer bursts, and ear-splitting white noise. It sounds absolutely horrible… in the best way possible. The album is hard to come by, but the music can be replicated by getting a copy of the Stooges’ Fun House on CD. Put it in a blender, and listen as TV Eye fragments into TV as Eyes, and your mind descends into the maelstrom.
One thing that struck me the most is no matter how chaotic the music gets, you can still dance to it. While their contemporaries such as the Pop Group or the Contortions were busy deconstructing James Brown funk patterns, Chrome’s energy and boogie came from Damon Edge’s volatile drumming and distorted bass patterns. Every rapid shift in the music is accompanied by equally erratic drumbeats, ranging in style from arena rock to free jazz. If there was a disco on Mars, Chrome would be the house band.
The opening song, TV as Eyes sets the stage perfectly for the musical madness that is about to take place. The track starts off with about fifteen seconds of tape manipulations and other unidentifiable ugly sounds before launching into a Stooges-esque riff. This construction-deconstruction mentality is another reoccurring theme. Songs such as Abstract Nympho will start as unintelligible noise, morph into a hard rocking punk song, and seemingly devolve back into noise by the end of the song.
An underrated player, Helios Creed’s guitar chops resemble mean Hendrix lead lines augmented by a wall of distortion, sometimes hiding behind the furious racket. Never is this better exemplified than on the track Zero Time where Creed wails over top of Edge’s vocals and other strange effects. After thirty-eight minutes of Edge’s vocals, I understand maybe five seconds of what he is saying and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
But no matter how spacey the music gets, the album is still, at its heart, a punk masterpiece. The energy that these guys play with is excessive, separating themselves from the endless array of Hawkwind copycats. The riffs might go hard, but the most punk aspect of the album is the mentality. When punk hit it big in 1977, the public consensus was that non-musicians were suddenly forming bands with no respect for the past. Chrome weren’t like that. Instead, they took the ferocious energy found in punk, added the acid rock guitar heroics from their hometown of San Francisco (minus the twenty-minute guitar solo), sprinkled in some industrial music, and created a left-field masterpiece. Gibby Haynes and Paul Leary should be paying these guys royalties.