Glenn Branca – The Ascension


“Fractured words and Branca-sonic / Anger trapped behind locked doors / And right between the eyes.” Lyrics from David Bowie’s “Tin Machine”

Glenn Branca died last May. He was 69. He left behind some of the coolest, most distinct, and loudest tunes ever created. On this album, released in ’81, he messed around with the frequencies that are created when a mess of electric guitars are turned up to sweet-holy-fuck. John Cage thought of Branca as a musical fascist. Think of that for a fucking second: John Cage, one of the main dudes of the avant-garde, the same fucking dude that created the song 4’33″ where, literally, nothing happens for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, goes brattling on like a scared old maid over someone’s music? That’s the best fucking reaction anyone could ever hope for.

The first track, “Lesson No. 2” starts with this dirty fucking bass line. Beating tom drums pound their way in like sledgehammers to a fistfight. By the time the other guitars pop in, you know you’re in for a hellish Willy Wonka chocolate river kind of ride. This shit is dissonant. It’s panic-filled. It’s what electric guitars have nightmares about. But somewhere, amid all this chaos, there’s a sense of planning. At the halfway mark, it sounds like they are using their guitars as baseball bats. The pacing speeds up. The tension continues to build, and build, and build. 

The next song “The Spectacular Commodity” starts where the first song left off. It’s still dissonant and bizarre, but it’s mellowed down somewhat. You’ll begin to hear where some post-rock, contemporary classical, post-punk, and heavy-metal bands got their influences. Yet, something in you will want to shut it off. Don’t you fucking dare. Please, stay with it. At five minutes, you’ll be bopping your head and you won’t know why. It’s some of the dirtiest, grungiest, and strangest waves that have ever hit your eardrums and you’ll be enjoying it. By the three-quarter mark, you’ll never want it to ever end. That’s not luck, motherfuckers. That’s the sheer fucking brilliance behind Branca’s orchestrated punk.

“Orchestrated Punk?” Ya, orchestrated fucking punk. Keep listening: later on, there are some major fucking string arrangements on this bitch.

This album is perfect. It’s one of the strangest and greatest to have ever been made. Without this album, there would be no Swans or Sonic Youth. Music as we know it would completely different. In 2013, David Bowie -Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Major fucking Tom himself- included it on a list of his 25 favourite albums. He said that “over the years, Branca got even louder and more complex than this, but here on the title track his manifest is already complete”. If David Robert Jones can’t convince you to listen to this album, then there’s nothing I can do.

Rest in Peace, you magnificent bastard. 



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