“Weird” is an interesting term because, at least where music is concerned, what was Weird 20 years ago often becomes accepted by the time a few decades have passed. Take a band like Young Marble Giants; in their time, they were weird as fuck. Nowadays, however, they’re revered because they’re NOT so weird, as a lot of bands, over the years, have endeavored to sound like them in one way or another.
That’s why Tensión: Spanish Experimental Underground 1980-1985 is an important artifact: Because no matter how close no-wave/freak-folk/noise-mulch/etc. get to becoming socially acceptable, these tunes always will be WEIRD AS FUCK because they belong to nothing and no one. Even in the era of Pink, Ariel, no one will ever listen to cuts like “He,” by Mar Otra Vez, and confuse it for the work of a current artist. It’s too disjointed and snarling, nasty like Martin Rev’s most gnarling dog-on-bone thrashes, yet almost innocent where instrumentation is concerned — i.e., no distortion, no guitar freakouts, no noise blowing through the composition from behind. In fact, the most recognizable trait of “He” is its simple guitar line, which, more than anything, reminds me of old psych riffs by the likes of Nuggets champions Dantalian’s Chariot and The Doors circa “Not to Touch the Earth.”
“Cha Cha Cha” by Clónicos is another example of a song untouched by time. The saxophones bring to mind Zzzz and Sweep The Leg Johnny, but beyond that? Muy extraño, thank you very much. And what of those tufts of wind, clarinets, violent bursts of Dizzy Gillespie trumpet, wax-scratching, and lazer shots? Not of this world, to say the least, and certainly not part of a strategy to accomplish anything more than a brain-busting end. As outside-the-norm as a lot of music reviewed on TMT seems, it’s rare to hear such a brazen disregard for the rules in the here-and-now (Even when things get weird, there’s usually a root involved, a scene to be shared, etc.), and I’m not even going to get into the dementedly bizarre world of Depósito Dental; you’ll have to drill into that rock-hard sucker yourself.
The risk of all this disjointedness, of course, is flat-out failure, and I would argue there’s a lot of flat-out bad to be had on Tensión. Claustrofobia combine emotive vocal pleading with reggae echo-riffs and a tubby slug of a drum machine on “París Nostàlgic” and fall flat on their faces, mashing their delicate features on the hot pavement. La Gran Curva’s “Tensión” is weird and outdated in the worst possible way, bolstered by a sickening funk bassline and vocals cheesier than havarti melted over a microphone.
If you are truly dedicated to the unflinchingly weird, however, this should come as no surprise, and underground-music enthusiasts of many a stripe will find Tensión: Spanish Experimental Underground 1980-1985 worthwhile, from the Bobby Trimble followers to the Les Georges Leningrad-ers to Jandek folk to those sequestered in a coldwave cave until the next summer psych solstice. Just keep the “skip” button handy, cave dwellers.