Review Summary: Lesson No. 1: forget what you've learned.
In the late 1970's, Glenn Branca was working in experimental theater and performing with his punk band Theoretical Girls
in New York. After only 20 shows, the band ended and Branca focused on his solo career and, together with Ed Bahlman, founded an independent record label called 99 Records. Originally released in 1980, Lesson No. 1
is Branca's first major work and the birth of a career whose influence would spread to everyone from Sonic Youth
to The Swans
. Branca had this idea of genius that has become his recurring concept of making the guitar an instrument of research and sound experimentation. Lesson No. 1
lays the foundations of what would become the various future works of the composer.
This 12" EP features two pieces for multiple electric guitars, which combines minimal music with the aesthetics of punk rock. "Lesson No. 1 for Electric Guitar" is an experiment in minimalist multiple guitars drone. This piece begins with two guitars picking out a riff similar to Steve Reich
's pulse, before introducing a triumphant one-note wall of sound with organ and bass shifting underneath to give a sense of harmonic movement. It keeps building and building with more feedback and noise thrown on top of it until it becomes something of an orchestra. On the other side of the record, there's "Dissonant", an intriguing ten minute piece for two electric guitars, keyboards, bass, drums and sledgehammer, that foretells the broken industrial sound of many composers to come. This piece replicates the constant motion of urban life, relaying on polyrhythmic experimentation. In addition to adding the first two original songs the Acute label had the good idea to add the title "Bad Smell", more than 16 minutes and involving Thurston Moore
and Lee Ranaldo
. In short, a reissue that brings its small batch of surprises.
All in all, Lesson No. 1
is a mythical record, which will have marked his time and those to come. By the force of things, by the intensity of his songs and finally for all the influence he has generated in the following years on many musicians, this record has become a classic. The intense energy that emerges from this album is like a slap that never stops hurting.