Perhaps you’d better have an attentive look (and listen) at this YouTube channel before going on to the rest of this review.
But if you’re not willing to follow the advice, please remember what this writer is telling you now. The category of artists capable of exploiting their vulnerability for the purpose of creation is the one that is going to produce the most striking – “sentient”, if you will – results in terms of balance between intricacy, courage and beauty.
In the 1976-1978 span – when these three records were taped, one of them left unreleased until this double CD came out – no ratiocination seemed to help musicians to escape a trendy shit avalanche of mostly punk derivation. And – in absence of security pins and military boots – already at that time the “right” choices had to be made if remaining employed was the goal. Problem is, neither Milo Fine nor Steve Gnitka were interested in that or other comfy “waves”, opting instead for a music that made them “pull sounds out of the instruments we didn’t even know were there” (a slight paraphrase from Donald J. Hutera’s liners to the erstwhile “phantom” LP When I Was Five Years Old, I Predicted Your Whole Life). The fruits of their labor consisted of fully fledged tracks, mere sketches and uncorrupted upsurges which were driven by an incredibly lucid evisceration of the “here and now”. Urgency and correspondence of intents maintained from an episode to another, with a few (splendid) concessions to the reflective side of (still) human instrumentalists.
Those aware of Milo Fine’s uncompromising path need no additional urging. His approach to the piano keyboard resembles that of a sculptor molding the clay of unusually resounding harmonic combinations; if the occasion arises, Fine can bore a deep hole in the listener’s heart, extracting melancholy with progressions that would make renowned RIO groups envious (“Gin And Tonic Scotch For Lars”). He’s perceptive to the subtler resonant features of a drum set like a conscious doctor should always be to a patient’s symptoms. He enriches that realization by implausibly juxtaposing tempos, turning arrhythmia into a forbidden pleasure, filling open structures literally carved into the surrounding molecules with ever-meaningful acoustic particles. And he can blow the entirety of an interior turbulence into the clarinet, or distil poetry from the same source: an example being the quasi-poignancy of “Melody For The Semi-Enlightened” (aka “Ballad For D.”).
Gnitka’s abilities are more or less unsung. Obviously enough, for someone who apparently was, and still is, content of navigating in the frothy currents of his own six-stringed creek. But it is exactly in those circumstances that an audience can breath the identically unpolluted air longed for by the player. Running away from the feared “lick procreation” machine, Gnitka’s work on the fretboard conjures up images akin to the unpredictable movement of cells, apparent anarchy revealing a more than decent level of organization. He can riff, or set up a chordal hook (“Extension Guitar Solo 2”); you fall in the trap, he annihilates your best expectations with scathing scraping, spiky onslaughts and angular phrases, occasionally submerging us with peculiarly reverberant uber-distortion. In a nutshell, a nimble-fingered guitarist who, differently from the narcissistic specimens, decides to throw an evidently excellent technique from the window in a quest for an alternative way of putting things.
Rumbustiousness does not necessarily imply incomprehensibility. The ultimate achievement of Earlier Outbreaks Of Iconoclasm – besides presenting a pair of great improvisers in the initial part of their non-careers – is that of furtherly dissolving the border separating spurt and accomplishment. The highest height to which a serious musician can aspire is the zone where ideas materialize as nearly realized without preliminary thoughts; in that sense, Fine and Gnitka were young masters almost 40 years ago. Needless to say, they have improved with age.