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Beyond words

Ruins bring brand new sounds to shock and amaze

Ipecac Records CD

Two-member bands are making their numbers known—and some of them are even capable of getting away with it. While many deserve props for making the most of the personnel limitation via innovation and intensity (Lightning Bolt and Pink and Brown leap immediately to mind), others sound overtly like a boy with his karaoke machine.

The Japanese duo Ruins have (pardon the pun) beaten the odds since 1985 with an outrageous drum and bass instrumentation chemistry. Is it safe to say that Ruins’ killer musicianship helped stoke the fire for the aforementioned bands—and possibly for more to come? I’d at least say that some sort of seed was planted, so now is the time to acknowledge Ruins as a forerunner of this, uh, “Spaz Prog?” No, how about “Freak Prog?” Forget it. I refuse to attach a label to a music that would ultimately destroy that music’s essence. Let’s just say that Ruins is the perfect band to send into space representing the planet Earth to other worlds.

Ruins have been skirting about the underground for years to only minor acclaim, but this is mainly due to limited availability of the duo’s work. Some U.S. know-better labels have tried to remedy this lately, namely Shimmy Disc, Skingraft, John Zorn’s Tzadik, and Mike Patton’s (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle) Ipecac. If Ruins can move beyond its core following, hopefully this latest venture will deliver them to bona fide cult status.

Otherwise, the public is missing out on some of the most acrobatic musicianship ever recorded. Drummer and vocalist Yoshida Tatsuya and bassist Sasaki Hisashi whip up some tricky musical steps on a teetering high wire. The constant and fluid interplay between them scales through as many speeds as a bipolar ballet, the alien operatic scatting (in a made-up language, of course) over progressive atomic funk with deep and stoney nods toward Robert Fripp, Gong, Mothers of Invention and even a certain Independent writer’s beloved Yes. But add thrash, punk and some serious jolts from a car battery and the results will leave you speechless. With Tzomborgha, Ruins have backed away from their habit of overcompensating for shortage of personnel with bass guitar effects, and have taken a less frenetic tack compared to earlier recordings—although their musical equation remains the same and leaves you with the same stunning conclusion. Ruins is an amazing unit, with a power between the two of them that no other being could give or take. Just observe and listen to get your socks blown off.Nikki Sudden and Rowland S. Howard
Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc
Secretly Canadian Records

The whole “legendary status” thing really bugs me. Those I consider to be “legendary” are barely scraping by financially, ignored and left for dead, their carcasses ripe for the genre vultures to clean out for their little retro bands in NYC or wherever. The sound is repackaged so it’s safe for kids, and the way the legend began is lost. But sometimes there is a defining moment regained in blessed reissue status. This is one. And while I have never placed either of these Aussies necessarily on a pedestal, I do have great admiration for their legacy. Rowland S. Howard founded The Birthday Party with Nick Cave, moved to Crime and the City Solution, formed These Immortal Souls and pulled off a decent version of Lee Hazelwood’s “Some Velvet Morning” with Lydia Lunch. Nikki Sudden had one of the greatest avant punk bands ever—Swell Maps—and has kept his name afloat with an incredibly prolific solo career. After a good 25 years of music for each, damn straight they can be filed under legendary status.

Sudden and Howard teamed up back in 1987 and pounded out this release for the British Creation label. Thank god Indiana’s Secretly Canadian had the vision to reissue this lost relic (as well as other Sudden solo releases), because I never knew this union even existed. Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc has the Australian motherland hissing out of the speakers—very sullen, spatial desert bleakness. Sudden and Howard’s brand of blues sweats with the sound—thick air as its ambiance, very close to the traditional American Gothic rite. Not Anne Rice, Bauhaus, etc. but more like cabin fever, the Donner Party, dustbowls and other long-forgotten hardships. Sudden, with his wayward search for the perfect key, has never been the best singer; it’s the passion he emits with his weary tales, all while sounding like a man who regrets selling his soul. Match that up with Howard’s drunken electric slide guitar and what you have is not merely a couple of honkies trying to play blues, but two gentlemen down at the dark end of the street fully aware of the risks at hand. This is an incredible album, a great surprise and easily one of the best reissues this year. Included is an additional disc of a performance in Augsburg, Germany from Sept. 18, 1987 that highlights a more rockin’ side of the project. A worthy performance, with Howard’s bombastic guitar work drawing a fine line between playing real gone and simply being lost. This is not meant to be a dis, considering that it adds such a creepy element. It is altogether a great package with smart packaging. Archeology like this keeps music history from getting buried. A breath from the crypt never smelled so bittersweet.

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