Naked City
Radio


4.0
excellent

Review

by JohnnyoftheWell CONTRIBUTOR (104 Reviews)
September 20th, 2014 | 16 replies


Release Date: 1993 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Naked City release a structured album of their usual madness

Naked City (1988-1993) were:

John Zorn – alto sax
Bill Frisell – electric guitar
Fred Frith – bass
Wayne Horvitz – keyboards
Joey Baron – drums
Yamatsuka Eye - session vocals


For those unfamiliar with them, Naked City was one of the many projects of avant-garde composer John Zorn and was essentially a way for him to inject his trademark bizarreness into as many genres as he could lay his hands upon, from ambient jazz to surf rock to his own bastardised version of grind. The band – an impressive group of established jazz musicians playing as a rock unit – threw transitions to the wind and juxtaposed these genres to their hearts’ content, and the result was a sound that constantly reinvented itself and was fun enough to be surprisingly listenable, as exemplified on their self-titled debut (if you are reading this but have not yet heard that album, then stop immediately and listen to it.) However, on Radio Zorn focused on structuring the album as a whole more coherently, offering a calculated progression of songs instead of the jumble of everything and anything that worked so well on previous outings. The tracks are arranged in rough order of insanity, starting accessibly and finishing in full chaos, so that the overall experience is as off-the-wall as should be expected, but is executed more logically than usual. Whilst this was a pretty smart idea, it had mixed consequences, as will be analysed.

Broadly speaking, the album has three main sections: the first part (Asylum-Sex Fiend) features eccentric (but listener friendly) jazz rock jams, the second (Razorwire-Bone Orchard) is more sporadic and markedly darker, but still a fairly coherent experience, and the final section (I Die Screaming-American Psycho) is distorted chaos that relies primarily on the band’s trademark grind-based style. I find this ordering of songs very ambivalent; on one hand, giving each style its own space allows ideas to be developed more fully than the band’s past penchant for sudden and extreme change had allowed – Sunset Surfer and The Vault are just two examples of tracks that thrive on being able to dwell on a single mood for their entirety. Furthermore, the theme of descending into madness is effective and makes for a rewarding listening experience – it’s oddly satisfying to hear the album become darker and more twisted throughout its runtime, culminating in the complete disorder of American Psycho, which rivals their debut in randomness and range of genres. In this sense, Radio is a slick and powerful whole that is structured so as to function as a single experience.

However, the flipside is that this arrangement breaks one of Naked City’s core principles – to create the most unexpected combinations of genres possible. Sure, there are some “what just happened there” moments, such as the mellow jazz piano break in the otherwise nightmarish I Die Screaming, the ambient outro of Bone Orchard and all of American Psycho, but on the whole Radio is quite predictable, and that can’t help but feel like a disappointment when it comes from the band who once shattered any semblance of structure with tracks like Graveyard Shift and Punk China Doll. Make no mistake – the songs here are consistently excellent and flow into one another very well, but after hearing how well Naked City played songs that transformed so quickly and so often into whatever the listener least expected, the relative sensibility of these songs brings a frustrating feeling of not being what the band did best.

It is a great shame that Radio’s relative tameness allows it to seem overshadowed by the band’s more daring ventures of the past, because the material here is still very impressive. There are no weak tracks here, but some moments are particularly strong – the haunting intro and menacing unison in Metaltov, the gorgeously melodic Sunset Surfer, the gigantic riffs and eerie atmosphere of Bone Orchard and the creative jam of Terkmani Teepee are all classic Naked City. Other tracks of note include The Vault, which combines downright frightening guitar-led sections that almost sound like black metal with interludes reminiscent of unusually creepy elevator music to great effect, and American Psycho, which concludes the album by deploying every weapon in the band’s arsenal in the most random, bewildering fashion imaginable. Some (including me) may find it too chaotic or challenging to enjoy, but its complexity is still jawdropping.

Although the band’s characteristic habit of using noise and feedback pervades Radio and most of the second half is not for the faint of heart, I would recommend this to any fan of John Zorn, instrumental rock or experimental music in general; Radio is an excellent album by an outstanding band and is possibly their most accessible outing. Despite the aforementioned mixed implications of this last statement, it is consistent, inventive and flat-out rocks.



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user ratings (76)
3.9
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
September 20th 2014


17588 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This album needed a review badly; check this out if you haven't heard it

Digging: Hakushi Hasegawa - Air Ni Ni

emester
September 20th 2014


8271 Comments


Always loved zorns stuff. Gotta check dis

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
September 20th 2014


17588 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

You'll enjoy this; it's pretty easy by his standards for the most part, but good fun

wacknizzle
September 20th 2014


14525 Comments


Only heard the self titled, looking forward to hearing this

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
September 20th 2014


17588 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

If you loved the s/t, you will love this to some degree

Veldin
September 21st 2014


3889 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Loved S/T as well, so I've just been meandering to find the next best Zorn piece. Also, I fucking love Kayo Dot and they were on his label, so I respect Zorn strongly.

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
September 21st 2014


17588 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Where have your meanderings taken you? I've been doing the same, but only for a few months and am impressed but slightly lost by the size of his discog. Yeah, his label and Kayo Dot are awesome; have you heard Time of Orchids? They were signed to Tzadik for a short while

Veldin
September 21st 2014


3889 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Dude I've been searching for a download of Sarcast While by ToO for quite some time with no avail. I've really only listened to Naked City and The Circle Maker.

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
September 21st 2014


17588 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I can dropbox it to you if you want? Ah cool, that's about half my experience too, along with Angelus Novus and The Crucible (although I'm getting more soonish)...disc 2 of The Circle Maker is astoundingly good

Veldin
September 22nd 2014


3889 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yes, please! I just ordered Radio from my library. : )

emester
September 22nd 2014


8271 Comments


Yeah, Zorn is without a doubt my favorite Jewish musician

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
September 22nd 2014


17588 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Cool, shoutbox me your email and I'll get round to it tomorrow (and you're welcome to the rest of my Zorn collection if you want)

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
September 22nd 2014


17588 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Hey Capn, life's good; you?

CalculatingInfinity
July 30th 2015


9132 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Starting my first jam of this, Naked City always bring something intresting.

brainmelter
August 4th 2015


6696 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

really nice to paint to

Digging: Child Abuse - Imaginary Enemy

Zig
January 5th 2019


1878 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Love this album.

Digging: Gustav Holst - The Planets, Op. 32



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