Cold Bleak Heat It’s Magnificent, But It Isn’t War

[Family Vineyard; 2005]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: the hated music, free-jazz, improvisational, maximalism
Others: nmperign, Vampire Belt, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor

We don't have examples of ancient Greek music to actually know what their music sounded like, but we do have texts that allow us to understand their dominant philosophies concerning music theory and aesthetics. Among their core ideas, the Greeks believed music had the power to affect behavior and change. To them, music possessed an ethos, which ultimately led to the notion that people had an obligation to use music properly. Plato even went so far as to say that musical innovation could shake the very foundations of society. In the liner notes from Cold Bleak Heat's debut album, It's Magnificent, But It Isn't War, Dredd Foole writes an epic poem about "The Four Whoresmen of the Apock O'lips" (a.k.a. Cold Bleak Heat). It's a story about four great musical heroes who battle the ugly, greedy gods in order to restore peace and beauty to man. And similar to the Greek myth of Orpheus, they do so by playing music.

These heroes are none other than Paul Flaherty on alto/tenor, Chris Corsano on drums (Vampire Belt, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Six Organs of Admittance), Greg Kelley on trumpet (nmperign, Heathen Shame), and Matt Heyner on acoustic bass (No Neck Blues Band, TEST). Using music in a way that would make Plato squeal, these four accomplished musicians -- certainly among the forefront of experimental music -- have crafted an unrelenting slab of noise that's as violent as it is sublime. From the trumpet and sax flirtation in the beginning of "The Blue Dabs of Varicose Veins" to the vocal caterwauling throughout the bass/drum romp of "You Only Live for Infinity," it's apparent these musical heroes are fighting the greedy gods with all their might, relying on newer incarnations of sonic expression rather than empty, coded gestures.

The full-bearded Flaherty most affectively displays his mastery of the saxophone in the upper registers. On "Love Conquers All Motherfucker," for example, Flaherty gives the sax an almost corporeal form, causing it to orgasm in ecstatic (pun intended) ecstasy. Kelley, on the other hand, doesn't mimic so much as sculpt noise into music. But instead of simply recontextualizing the idiosyncratic noises of nmperign, Kelley suits the proceedings perfectly, showing both restraint and versatility. Elsewhere, bald-headed beauty Corsano insists on continuing an onward trajectory, wavering between minimal taps and touches to all-out blitzkrieg; yet at the same time, his virtuosity seemingly suspends the temporality of rhythm to emphasize percussive coloring. Meanwhile, Heyner, with his animated bass lines and destructive bowing, provides a low-end that wriggles free from the often lampooned role of the bass player simply as foundation.

Of course, this sort of "hated music" isn't a 21st Century invention -- the 20th Century is replete with examples of sonic liberation. It is, however, an example of the dynamic fluidity of this notion of freedom in music, a seemingly self-contained sound that nonetheless often carries more political and social weight than a derivative "protest song" written by yet another "punk" band. It's just expressed sonorically rather than lyrically, with less emphasis on the superficial. True, the visceral affect of improvised music gets lost somewhere between the performance and the time it arrives shrinkwrapped in your mailbox, but this performative displacement becomes a tool that Foole suggests be used anytime against the forces of evil. As Jacques Attali believed, music acts as both a mirror and prophet of society. If his theory is correct, Cold Bleak Heat may very well be the beacon of justice.

1. Never Give 'Em What They Want
2. The Blue Dabs of Varicose Veins
3. Bloodshot Blink (Vanquished Teeth)
4. Raising the Dead (Freezer Fight)
5. Love Conquers All Motherfucker
6. You Only Live for Infinity
7. Is That All You Got?