GLENN BRANCA – The Third Ascension

Systems Neutralizers

Yesterday, October 6th, was the 71st birthday of the late Glenn Branca. Just two days prior to the date we received this new offering documenting a 2016 live set at The Kitchen. The Third Ascension – an evident trail of Branca’s previous milestones The Ascension and The Ascension: The Sequel – does not betray expectations. Scored for four guitars (Arad Evans, Reg Bloor, Brendon Randall-Myers and Luke Schwartz), bass (Greg McMullen) and drums (Owen Weaver), and conducted by the composer himself, this opus generates the kind of “thump-in-the-head, quiver-in-the-chest” drive we’ve been experiencing for decades thanks to the man’s understanding of what lies beyond the borders of harmonic conventions and commonly employed tunings.

Controlled, intelligent ferocity is expressed by the initial “Velvets And Pearls”, a piece that could make a bear wake up from hibernation and start punching the air in utter enthusiasm. What’s interesting is a rather unusual focus on intertwining melodic fragments, of the angular variety (“German Expressionism” representing the clearest evidence in that regard). “The Smoke” pushes the listener back to a trademark wall of open strings and clashing partials, thoroughly numbing the mind in spite of the presence of additional melody (which, quite bizarrely, at times reminded yours truly of The Shadows). “Lesson No.4” restores harsh dissonance and monolithic pulse, ultimately establishing total command on the audience, six instruments sounding like fifty at full volume.

“Twisting In Space” is characterized by clustery excursions through the guitar’s higher pitch gamuts; too bad Sonic Youth can’t “borrow” anymore from Branca, or else this would have been a good one to remodel. “Cold Thing” ends the album in spectacular fashion, gathering under a 16-minute umbrella the bulk of intuitions, realizations and bitter truths met by wise human beings during the hardest periods of their lives. It’s a formidable finale, the sextet literally throwing incandescent shards towards the lucky attendants, probably frightened to death (and irremediably deaf, if ear plugs were missing) but definitely aware of having witnessed pure transcendence.

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