New York punk goes classical. Or vice versa
Following Acute’s reissue of The Ascension last year, it’s wonderful to have Glenn Branca’s early work available again?not least because they show how his reputation as a ‘proper’ composer does him something of a disservice. On his first solo release, 1980’s Lesson No 1, Branca’s music is actually closer to muscular, intensely adrenalised rock’n’roll.
The title track begins with incantatory ringing guitars, a kind of rock transcription of Phillip Glass’ systems music. After about three minutes, the drums arrive and propel Branca’s quintet towards a series of crescendos that betray his love of Joy Division. Nearly as gripping, two further pieces?one, “Bad Smells”, featuring Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore as part of a five-guitar frontline?prove Sonic Youth owe many of their mesmeric, discordant innovations to the groundwork done by this most rockist of modern composers.