Various Artists: Ground Fault California

[RRR/Troniks/Ground Fault; 2006]

Rating: 5/5

Nothing says sunny California like an ominous black box filled with 10 LPs
of the choicest noise the state has to offer. With each group/artist taking
one side of an LP, the California box set is much like the Nonesuch
sampler, Music from Distant Corners of the World, which was popular
in the '70s. Well, maybe it's more like the five LP set of New England noise
(released by RRRecords, who also had a hand in the Cali box) from awhile
back, but I compare it to the "world music" sampler simply because
California is fucking huge. Taking up a good chunk of America's West Coast,
California holds about 34 million people, not including the homeless and
illegal immigrants. There are endless variants of noise in this sprawling
state, and while 10 LPs/20 artists seems expansive, it actually only
scratches at the surface of the West Coast.

Curated by Phil Blankenship of The Cherry Point, California tends to
weigh heavily on veterans of the noise community like John Weise, Amps for
Christ, GX Jupitter-Larsen, and Solid Eye. Not only do all of these folks
religiously record, perform, and hock their warez up and down the coastline,
but most have achieved international notoriety for their sonic
investigations. It would have been nice to call attention to more newbies,
but who would drop $75 on a bunch of bands that may not even exist tomorrow?
It's actually a bargain for 10 LPs, and if the availability were limited
enough (in this case: 1000 pressed), noise fanatics would likely splurge on
such a collection of no-name bands without flinching. But this box aims more
at being a broad survey of this behemoth of a state and accordingly looks
like an art book or a volume from an encyclopedia.

I won't go into great detail as to what each group sounds like because,
aside from not wanting a 10-page review out of this, if you scroll down and
look at the tracklisting, you'll already know whether or not this is a
necessity in your collection. It's not to sound elitist, as though if you
don't know who any of those names are then you don't deserve to know; but it
is to say that noise fans everywhere should be buzzing and rumbling in
excitement after looking at this lineup. Every group/artist does what they
do best. Made up of roughly 50% harsh noise and another 50% more delicate
pieces, the box offers a wide variety of what the state has to offer.

Joe Colley's appropriately titled piece "Obstacles" uses minimal components
very playfully and (without spoiling the surprise) recalls the confusion
when first (or second) listening to certain Monty Python and MAD
magazine LPs. The Skaters' six-movement suite, "Wind Drapeing Incense," is
full of mysteriously blurred vocals and ethnic-hued pulsations that sound
aged by degenerating tape. Open City's jagged electro-free jazz guitars
(this time with drums) duel at full strength as they generate sounds that
are seemingly impossible to make on stringed instruments. R.H.Y. Yau's vocal
workouts are raw and beastlike, with uncomfortable silence and breathing
appropriately interspersed. John Wiese's angular, hyperactive pinpricks of
harsh electronics recall the practice of alchemy as much as they are simply
badass. The Cherry Point's over-stimulated, densely layered distortion
simmers in its own juices while transcending all thresholds and peaks that
could be expected of this kind of harsh noise. While Yellow Swans'
percussive sounds take a back seat this time around, the duo still dishes
out their typical dose of proactive, overdriven sonic euphoria.

As a resident of Los Angeles, I've been fortunate by proximity to have seen
many of these bands play. Prior to this box set, I had never considered the
notion of California noise as having its own distinct sound like West Coast
jazz did in the '50s and '60s. But while listening to California, I
was genuinely curious if there are definitive stylistic markings that
unified the sounds of this state. Well, there are no bleached blonde girls
in bikinis, freaking out with Mosrite guitars (nor were there in West Coast
jazz, but they were pictured on the album covers). In fact, unless
they're well hidden, there's not one woman featured on California.
Not that it's an exclusive problem of California, noise, music in general,
or any fault of Phil Blankenship, but it is a disheartening thing to see in
such a liberal, forward-thinking state. Although the set is missing
contributions from the Glorious Ladies of California Noise, it's also light
on the testosterone-fueled, misogynist machoness.

Although I didn't sense a specific California sound that I could summarize
in one sentence, perhaps the most impressive thing about this box set is its
testament to DIY culture. A 10 LP set is no small undertaking and wouldn't
be possible if these artists weren't so dedicated to self-documentation and
creating a sense of community. Los Angeles noisemaker and show curator Bob
Bellerue, a.k.a. Halfnormal, has suggested noise as something akin to folk
art: a unifying element in a village as opposed to something alienating the
blue collar from the culturally elite. He also maintains the slogan, "Noise
is the new punk rock." If we are indeed going down that trajectory, soon
we'll be seeing t-shirts with the contrasting slogans, "Noise is/isn't
dead." With noise having had a recent renaissance of interest and finding
its way into the home of some unsuspecting scenesters, the t-shirts wouldn't
be totally unprecedented. But despite recent deals between Ecstatic Peace
and Universal (which only applies to their most pop-oriented groups) and
Wolf Eyes releasing records on Sub Pop, no one is making a significant
financial investment in the future of noise other than the musicians
(they'll each be saving an extra copy of the box for eBay in a few years)
and those collecting infinite amounts of short-run CDRs, LPs, and cassettes.
There's an amazing network of people up and down the entire coast who are
entrepreneurial as much as they are friends obsessed with sound. So often
their music is made by them and for them, but California successfully
summarizes their culture for the rest of the world, or at least 1000 people,
to hear.

1. Amps for Christ
2. The Cherry Point
3. Joe Colley
4. Control
5. Gerritt
6. GX Jupitter-Larsen
7. Moth Drakula
8. Open City
9. Oscillating Innards
10. Damion Romero
11. Rubber O Cement
12. Sixes
13. The Skaters
14. Solid Eye
15. Spastic Colon
16. Tralphaz
17. John Wiese
18. Xome
19. R.H.Y. Yau
20. Yellow Swans


Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.