Glenn Branca – Lesson No 1

New York punk goes classical. Or vice versa

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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.

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