The Dead C. - Vain, Erudite and Stupid: Selected Works 1987-2005 (Ba Da Bing! 2xCD)
In his section of the liner notes, Nick Cain says, "I came to the Dead C. late [...] around February or March 1992". Well Nick Cain, have I got you beat with this confession. My very first actual factual physical encounter with a product from New Zealand's own Dead C. came in 2006, some 14 years after Cain made his discovery. It wasn't the first time hearing them - I had downloaded "Trapdoor Fucking Exit" maybe a year or two ago, and it was all well and good...I just never really got around to buying any (the curse of the internet, right?). However that changed recently with a few "warehouse finds" of albums previously thought to be out of print, "Harsh 70s Reality" and the aforementioned "TFE". I quickly assimilated those into my tastes and decided to hold off on scouring for anymore. Why not just wait for this tantalizing collection? And the absurdly low price of $10 ($9 in some places!) made a lot more sense to me than scoring some early 90's Dead C. side on eBay for a mint, right? Right. So basically all this to say that I'm probably the least qualified person on the planet not named, say, Ted Nugent, to be reviewing this. But when has that ever stopped me? I know what I like and this is the sweet note indeed.
The "Vain" set flows chronologically starting at the start: "Max Harris" is the first song from the first Dead C. record (1988's "DC503") which teeters on the brink of total detonation for the entire five minutes, followed up with two more numbers from '88, "Angel" and "3 Years". This is arguably the most cohesive side of the Dead C.'s work, although the casual music listener might take issue with the use of such a word to descibe the rough-hewn, frayed out-rock sounds heard hear. The closest comparison I can draw to their sound in their early stages is like a cross-pollination of the Broken Flag crew with early Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Mudhoney et al. (of course the latter acts all came about after the fact, but I'm just trying to find a foothold here). 1990 brought the "Eusa Kills" LP on Flying Nun, represented by "Maggot" and "Glass Hole Pit". The former buddies up a lumbering repeated drum roll with Michael Morley heavily treated, nasal voice whereas the latter is a rambling ditty that could land the Magik Markers in serious legal hot water if anybody ever tried to pursue said fact. Splitting the first disc almost perfectly in half is the 11-minute eternal orgasm named "Helen She Said" (from the Siltbreeze mini-LP of the same name), benefitting greatly from the lo-fi rhythm n' blooz stomp of Bruce Russell and Robbie Yeats alongside squiggly, frazzled guitar. Morley's lethargic, almost ambivalent voice and lyrics are just the cherry on the top. The second half of the song spirals out into a beautifully blissed guitar exorcism, the same kind of mark Sonic Youth were aiming at (and hit) on "Expressway to Yr Skull". The band's psuedo-live album "Clyma est Mort" is showcased via the fantastic noodle-busting syndromes "Highway" and "Power", preceding the b-side to Forced Exposure's "Power" 7", that being "Mighty". In 1992 the band took a serious turn for the great with "Constellation" and "T is Never Over Pt. I & II" from "Harsh 70s Reality", the latter track omitted from the CD version of "70s" that floats around...just another reason why you need this. The hulking jagged noise guitar flailings that would become their trademark are tuned perfectly to the sky on the "70s" material. This disc ends with "World" from 1994's "World Peace Hope et al" on Shock. If you ever wondered why people called the Dead C. (among other things) precursors of what's now known as post-rock, here's yr history lesson.
The second spinner (there's MORE?) sees TDC all spread out like, laying down classic sidelongs left right and center like it's no thing. "The Marriage of Reason and Squalor" (also from '94) is a slow-burning comet of deep space mythos which is utterly fitting for the alien sounds is brings forth. They carry the same interplanetary ethic over on the tracks from 1995's "The White House" - "Bitcher" and "Voodoo Spell" - which are equal parts drone, noise rock and psychedelia. 1997 LPs on Siltbreeze "Repent" and "Tusk" are repped with a track each, "Repent IV" and "Head", respectively. Both are massive outward-reaching jaunts averaging 11 minutes apiece. "Repent IV"'s acoustic guitar running beautiful lines under a screaming current of feedback is just about too perfect for words while "Head" brings together TDC's old, "rockist" approach and sews it up with their current penchant for blown-out amplification - dig the relatively steady drum beat and Morley's vocals up against fantasically damaged guitar molestation. In 2000 the Dead C released a self-titled album formed out of tracks they laid down across a span of three years; "All Channels Open" and "Tuba is Funny (Slight Return)" are selected from the lot. The first one isn't all that entertaining to my ears but the second one straight-up rules. I think I remember reading somewhere (the Wire?) that it sampled Maher Shalal Hash Baz, but I'm still not sure if I was being given the ol' wind-up there. Whatever the case may be, the infectious, druggy bassline attacks my dopamine receptors with great zest and it's a feeling I can get down with. The next year the Dead C put out "New Electric Music" and the 10-minute horror stroke of "Repulsion" is taken from that. A particularly exhilerating performance from drummer Yeats, even if you can't hear much of it. Finally 2003's "The Damned" also gets the one-track treatment, and that is "Truth", an excitable take on noise rock in the 21st century outfitted by the masters themselves.
In case you didn't get the message, there's a whole lot to like here. Whether you're an old pro (come on, you can't tell me you have ALL these songs already in your collection) or a relative newcomer to the fold like myself, you just can't miss with this compilation...and at 5 clams per disc, you can't afford to miss it either. You've already probably got Aquarius or Fusetron open in other window - just add it to your cart and you'll feel much better in the morning. Or worse. Worse in a "feeling better" kind of way. You know?
And if the stellar music wasn't enough, "Vain, Erudite and Stupid" comes with an action-packed booklet featuring not only words from Cain (not to use that as a selling point or anything), but excellent tales from Seymour Glass and the always-entertaining Tom Lax. And there's some pretty cool photographs. And Bruce Russell himself walks you through each and every track selected for the comp. And - my favorite part - there's a killer Dead C-as-cartoon characters doodle printed on disc one. Don't make me buy it FOR you.