Throbbing Gristle (1979)
Picking up where Trout Mask Replica left off, this enigmatic art collective’s debut album used new technologies and ideas with the aim of making music as difficult, disturbing, objectionable and alienating as they could. This involved copious usage of synthesizers, drum machines and programming; an outright defiance of typical song lengths and arrangements; and abrasive music which would soon blossom into goth, industrial and electronica. It’s also very redolent of post-rock’s eeriness and formlessness.
The very ironically named 20 Jazz Funk Greats is a hellish landscape of confrontational, unpleasant sounds molded into somewhat recognizable musical patterns. The centerpiece of the album, “Persuasion”, will probably unsettle you if you are a decent person. But the group’s emotional distance from the material makes it clear that they don’t intend to glamorize their subject, and thus it is a chillingly executed work of valid artistic expression. The track gives the world a compositional representation of rape. Things only get mildly more inviting from there. When a song here isn’t dark and disturbing, it’s very detached and spacey, almost ambient but with definite hints of malice. It’s a very masochistic listen.
Oddly enough, there are a few pauses for relief – a couple dancey instrumentals and some drone-based rave-ups. The overall impression this gives is very hazy and scattered. After the promise of post-rock and the creative bankruptcy of punk (hastily proclaimed after the Sex Pistols were revealed to be a manufactured property and broke up), there wasn’t a very strong sense of what the future would hold for music. Throbbing Gristle took that worrying stasis and made this LP, a haunting worst-case scenario that illustrated their perverse outlook on the world.
Key track: “Convincing People”