1980: Weird Times Ahead
If Blue Angel signifies a waning pop sensibility, Eugene Chadbourne’s There’ll Be No Tears Tonight contains foreshadowing of the strangeness to come for WNUR. Chadbourne’s record is, on the surface, backward-looking. All of the songs are folk and country covers, and the instrumentation is fairly typical of the genre. His delivery, however, departs from the norm with an improvisational style more equivalent to a free jazz player of the late sixties covering the great American songbook. The song I selected, “My Heart Would Know” is a rendition of an old Hank Williams tune, perhaps more subtle than the “mind-blowing fusion of seemingly disparate styles” the music director describes on the cover of the record. With the improvisational tinklings of Scott Manning’s lap steel guitar and the sparse percussion of David Licht, Chadbourne’s loping and rhythmically free rendition of Williams honky-tonk would easily catch the unsuspecting folk listener off guard, but like the changes overtaking WNUR in general, this weirdness is subtle and only accessible to the most dedicated listeners and fans.
From the weird to the avant-garde, Lesson No. 1 is the debut EP from an artist who would grow to an enormous stature within the New York no wave movement, and noise rock in general. The music director’s note to “be adventurous! play it!” implies the waning conservative pop-centric ideology of DJs at the time, but perhaps with less hostility than one might expect. From the notes, one gets the sense of the genuine excitement surrounding music like Branca’s within certain crowds at the station, and their eagerness to spread music they found compelling. Perhaps more interesting than the initial MD note, is the added quip from a DJ or music director from the future. Responding to the MD’s comparisons to Phillip Glass the un-named writes jots “not really at all.” Unpacking this dynamic further, we can actually witness the avant vs. pop rift as it develops in the subtle differences between Glass and Branca. While Branca’s music certainly draws influence from the New York minimalists, his work aligns much more with the works of bands like Swans and Sonic Youth who would pioneer a certain brand of New York noise rock. Thus, the comparison to Glass is a conservative one in that it disregards the underground rock music and musicians actually surrounding Branca, and relies on an established classical composer as a comparison for an album containing tracks like “Dissonance” which really only sounds like Glass on a basis of repetition. This does not discount the fact that WNUR has an original pressing of this recording from 99 Records in the year of its release, and this fact in itself solidifies enough the growing strange and underground taste of WNUR music directors and DJs.