The DECAYES: “horNetZ” *****

Recorded 1981.

 

The Decayes were a loose collective centered around Ron Kane (bass, guitar, clarinet, kybds) in Southern California. They grew out of premature garage experimentation in the late 1970s and burst into celebrity among isolated fans around the world. Locally, they could never accrue much following, despite an occasional association with Los Angeles Free Music Society.

 

Their repertoire ranged from primitive, but highly inventive studio experimentation to a more basic, but never commercial song format. Despite the obvious mannerisms of the period, the young musicians were cognizant of the krautrock legacy and Czukay’s studio achievements. For the Decayes, this was work of passion – the tapes were heavily edited, run through feedback devices, spliced and overlaid masterfully, enriching rather than cluttering the musical texture. On “horNetz”, Kane was joined by Warren Bowman (bass, guitar), Mark Florin (kybds, guitar), and John Payne (drums, perc).

 

The Paranoid Department

The record opens with a fanfare and a female grandiloquence in Dutch. Snare drums roll and euphoniums fart. The pomp swells further when a male commentator chimes in. Cut! We are listening to the band now – the drumset recorded with a rhythm-box regularity, bass, hypnotic but flatly sounding electric guitar, and the (oh-so 1980s!) clarinet. Voices crawl in the background. The double reed licks and the incisive guitar figure will keep this riding fragment on a roll.

 

Breeding in Captity

Against a very Doors-ian organ in high register, we are facing a fast-paced sardonic recitation about “breeding in captivity”. It receives a well-suited, simple support from the clarinet, the rhythm section and a very sparse guitar. One feels some (accidental?) affinity with C.W. Vrtacek’s early recordings.

 

…but, Dad…

Snippets from TV series (dad and daughter bicker about a robot) are purposefully humorous. We hear more harmonic electric organ, and dialogues on fast-played tapes. It is almost “Lumpy Gravy”, minus the giggle.

 

Dance Hall

Honky, high-pitched organ appears here next to a hollow sounding amplified guitar. The rhythm section is very bare bones. Our attention is brought to the comic selection of tapes with recordings in American English and French. They are long enough to convey the meaning of entire sentences and the self-righteousness of some passages indicates that some must have been at least two decades old at the time of the recording. Some other natural effects are more heavily processed at varying speed, but without overkill. The rhythm section, chicken organ and sometimes clarinet keep it all in place.

 

What More Could You Ask For?

This really sounds like some loser who really can’t sing is spewing out his frustrations in what could stand for a sci-fi instrumentation two generations ago – all complete with space organ and clarinet. Not much else is happening in the stanza-refrain formalism, even if it’s ironic.

 

The Head Popped Off

Expressive bass line is what keeps it going, almost funky-way, against a busy “A Certain Ratio” type of John Payne’s percussive lead. One wonder if this is the track with Dennis Duck of LAFMS. There are screams form the clarinet, sustained notes from a cheap synthesizer, choking guitar cracks, a cuckoo clock and some taped voices again. But overall this is a driven post-punk-funk that’s too lean to fall into superfluous complexities. At the end, the instruments get un-tuned – almost the opposite of an orchestra warm-up.

 

Flamethrower Bloodbath

Spooky march that could easily find its way into Residents’ “Commercial Album”’s instrumental parts. This is neither a pastiche nor a tribute, but does exemplify just how influential the San Fran giants were. The guitar is 100% Snakefinger, the rhythm section is stomping on a Warren Bowman’s basso profundo, but not as succulent as Jah Wobble’s. All the while, some maniac is yelling his soul out, echoed only by crows. It fades out nicely.

 

Nobody Loves Me

There was something about the lyrics written for the wave of electro-pop in early 1980. For whatever reason, outside the ubiquitous balladry at least, most songs married the Bowie/Ferry crooning with post-punk assault by writing the stress on the first syllable of each line. This is the manner that the Decayes ape here, successfully, so to speak. Luckily the reed “section” remains disciplined, providing both the harmonic line and more dynamic upswings in higher registers. Ron Kane proves he can play the clarinet.

 

Out to Lunch

No, not Eric Dolphy’s immortal classic. Rather, this is another fast-paced chorus on a tight bass-drum railroad. The clarinet squeals and squeaks, but does not fundamentally alter the formula-bound score.

 

Hornets

It starts heavier, with a less uptempo drive. Clarinet and acoustic guitar punctuate a mixed-down landscape with multiple male voices. The clarinet occasionally bleeps in the range where it loses its distinctiveness. But this is not a virtuoso record and should not be held to such benchmarks. Intrusions of taped elements seems to play an imperceptibly rhythmic role, albeit on a larger scale.

 

Big Dessert

Two basic chords are busily repeated by the right hand, but they quickly loses projection, and become subordinated to other electronic sounds, rhythm machine, wooden-sounding guitar clicks.

 

I Don’t Know, I Don’t Even Care Why

Another hasty number. The untrained vocal ensures us repeatedly about the wisdom of the title statement. Wooden percussion adds some color.

 

Table for Two

Lovely electric piano somehow survived from the previous decade, nudging its way among honking buses and other (automotive) garage noises. The keyboard (Mark Florin?) has a rounded, warm timbre, here contrasted with the street noise and the drumstick hesitating between the drum frame and instantly muffled cymbals. The tapes are, this time, very gracefully selected and make this into the most nostalgic moment on the record. Shuffling steps and some engineering work in the workshop stays on during the passages devoid of the electric piano. A testimony to the musicians’ rich, synesthetic imagination.

 

Love Me

Dudley Moore’s song from movie “Bedazzled” is a very simple organ-drum-bass trio on a quick, chunky bus tour. Back in the 1970s, this could be a theme for any TV show, but now it would probably qualify for Aavikko’s CD. The record closes with an effect of a tape fast moving audibly through recording heads.

 

A Man and a Woman

The next four tracks do not belong to the original LP, but appeared as bonus tracks on the CD reissue in 2004. This one is a choppy instrumental based on the same trio formula as some of the simpler tracks on horNetz LP. It speeds up towards the end.

 

How Do They Know?

Sketchy song alluding to the then state of the record business. It is very organ-based, with the same predilection for the contrast between the sizzling tone quality of the keyboard and the mixed down rhythm section. Again, a very ‘residential’ melodic guitar snakes through the repetitive pattern.

 

Victor

The romping sound almost calls for “London’s Burning” scream, but instead we get a lilting, optimistic guitar figure and a hapless voice that would not be out of place in the UK scene that worshipped such declarative singers at that time.

 

Woody

Excellent vignette for multiple guitars in high tuning. The guitars go around their business in flat, dry fashion, occasionally stopping to hear the response from the drummer. This is an intelligent construction, without being flashy.

 

***

 

The Decayes’ originals are hard to come by and I am yet to hear all of them. Their debut crept into Steven Stapleton’s notorious list and thus vanished entirely from second-hand market. It is highly recommended.

 

The DECAYES: “Ich bin ein Spiegelei” (1977)

The DECAYES: “Accidental Musik“ (1978)

The DECAYES: “Not Yet“ (1979)

The DECAYES: “horNetz” (1981)

The DECAYES: “Ten Guitars” (1982)

Published in: on May 25, 2008 at 8:28 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for your review of my record. “How do they know?” is about BBQ dog at the San Jose airport. The band music at the beginning is the Dutch national anthem “De Wilhelmus” (or thereabouts). The Decayes were not / are not Residents fans or listeners. Mark played most of the keyboards. I usually played bass or keyboards. Cheers!

  2. Just found your insights regarding the Decayes- a great read! This is Mark Florin’s wife, and yes, it was his magic hands on Table for Two – specifically on a 1979 Wurlitzer piano in which he “clamped down the tines for brightness”… He also was on guitar during Flamethrower Bloodbath – along with everybody else – Wall of Guitars, if you will, and thanks you for the comparison/complement to Snakefinger! And, knowing Warren, I cannot personally listen to Nobody Loves Me without uncontrolled laughter. Always, however, Mark credits The Sound the is The Decayes to the brilliant tape editing and production skills of Mr. Kane.

  3. I was curious about buying this album on cd, but the comments by Mr kane on the Decayes website make it sound like a bad idea… Does the cd really play only once? Is it really impreganted with some nasty virus in case you should try to back it up on your computer? And does he really think someone will buy his album ontop of all that when he finishes by saying that if you e-mail him to buy a copy “you will regret your mistake”? WTF?!
    If it weren’t for all that to put me off, I would want to by the Hornetz cd.

  4. There is a 2014 album by The Decayes called “Aquarium” – LP & CD are available from the band directly.


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