Today’s retrospective covers Lozenge. I fell in love with this band the first time I heard them. It was a single track on a mixtape my friend Rachel mailed to me while I lived in Toledo. The song was “Saw A Man: Looney”, and I remember it coming on for the very first time while I was driving back towards my apartment from campus. I had to keep driving way out of my way to ensure I heard the whole song…and then I rewound the tape and listened to it again while I sat in my car in the apartment parking lot. It was an insane song – psychotically unhinged vocals assaulting me while a clap-trap of percussion buzzed below; rotten, jagged bass pummeling me, an accordion carrying the melody. It was awesome.
I came to learn that these 4 (sometimes 5 or 6) guys started this band while attending Rice University in Texas. It was 1992. They were all band nerds – the orchestra kind – but had a penchant for stuff like The Birthday Party and the Jesus Lizard and Throbbing Gristle. They cobbled together a band with an ugly sound; a dedicated drummer on a traditional kit, a guy that split his time between a hodge-podge of scrap-metal percussion and later a second drum kit, a wild-man, barefooted bass player, and electric oboe/french horn, electric accordion, minimoog synth and vocals. Later on, they had a fifth member playing saxophone and sometimes an ex-Flying Luttenbacher/My Name Is Rar-Rar alum on guitar. Lyrically, it was all very intelligent (these guys were nerds,after all) and creative – with dark social commentary and creative phrasing and delivery. They released their debut album in 1995 and celebrated it as a Grand Opening/Going Out Of Business affair – but as life would twist and turn, all of the guys wound up together in Chicago and they resurrected the band. Eventually, I became an email penpal of sorts with frontman/oboist/moog/accordion aficionado Kyle Bruckmann, trying to keep up with his art post-Lozenge. It was all mostly weird, avant-garde stuff, but he did do Wrack and Pink Mountain, which were both more grounded in rock music. I have no idea what any of the other guys went on to do.
Anyhow, over the course of a decade, they released three studio records and a live album . Each record was a little different from the one before it, and they experimented with their sound continuously. I am content in that I did get to see them live one time. They played Speak In Tongues with My Name Is Rar-Rar. They were touring the Doozy LP, though I’m not quite sure what year it was (2001? 2002?). It blew me away. It was all the madness I hoped it would be. They were an incredible band, eventually torn apart by geography as the members started to split up and go their own ways.
Plenum (1995) – The band released this record after they had already broken up the first time. Legend has it that they came together, bashed together these art-damaged tunes, played a handful of gigs, broke up, and then a year later released this record. It’s an insane record. Across twenty-two tracks, the band ripped through savage, almost death metal-flavored fake jazz, spazzed out ska, musique concrete (soundscapes/noise/field recordings/whathaveyou), rock and roll, and just about anything in between. In many ways, it originally reminded me a lot of Mr Bungle or Secret Chiefs 3 for how bizarre it was without being an unsustainable mess. Lyrically, it’s a progressive powerhouse, touching on topics ranging from hate crimes (“Feed”) to mental health issues (“Thorazine Shuffle”, “Saw A Man: Looney”), and other social commentaries to make you think and process the auditory violence being unleashed with a little different perspective. The songs ran from anywhere around 30 seconds long to nearly 6 minutes, and it felt alive. The accordion, lurching along whenever the Moog was idle or where ever oboe or french horn was not called for. The bass was a monster, scraping out your insides with some of the nastiest tone ever, and the racket turned out by the metal percussion and the drums was potent (if not reckless). The recording quality was good, but raw, making the insane sounds feel that much crazier.
Doozy (2000) – Ah, the reunion album! The guys trimmed a lot of the fat from the Plenum days and unleashed a much more focused salvo with this record. The Moog took a little more of the spotlight and the songwriting took more of a turn for darker, harder hitting riffs and more direct “rocking.” Tracks like “NmbrCrnchr” (numbercruncher) really let the synth shine; the melody honking along in its twisted waveforms. This record sounds cleaner than Plenum and as a result, maybe a little less potent, but the content was definitely far superior. Almost every track rules, and how about “That Which I cannot Have I Must Destroy” as a song title? Bad-ass. On this record, they added John Robbins on saxophone, and his work was a great addition, particularly on the apocalyptic closer “Quintet For The End Of Time.” I adore this album. I think of it often. It’s really an amazing piece of work for anyone that thinks Neurosis is really cool but wonders what they would have sounded like if they were a bunch of college of music grads.
Mishap (2002) – Recorded live in Chicago, this record was a bit weird since it mainly focused on all new material. Aren’t most live records supposed to be greatest hits collections? Anyhow, for a live recording (I’m typically not a fan), it sounds remarkably good and captures the essence of the band well. I listened to it a lot.
Undone (2005) – Sometime in 2003 or 2004, bassist Kurt Johnson mailed me a CD-R with a note that said something like, “Here’s our new album. Phillip played a second drum kit on most of it, we’re pretty happy with how it turned out. Maybe it’ll get released, maybe it won’t.” Thankfully, it was released in 2005 by Sickroom Records. Unfortunately, whomever pressed/sequenced the discs pressed them wrong, inserting 2 second gaps between each song, ruining the seamless flow intended by the band. I still have that original CDR and it’s definitely a better overall experience, as petty as it is to complain about 2 second gaps between tracks. Many of the “new” tracks that were on Mishap show up here with their proper studio recording, and it’s a beauty. By this time, John Robbins had passed away and Boris Hauf joined on sax. Chuck Falzone (Flying Luttenbachers, My Name Is Rar Rar) appears on guitar for a cover of The Birtday Party’s “Big Jesus Trash Can” and it’s a bona fide scorcher. This record has some amazing compositions in it with riffs that wind so much, you almost get lost. The accordion gets less love here, but the Moog shines like a beacon. It’s awesome. This band is the reason I bought a Moog years ago, but I never learned to wield it as effectively as Bruckmann. Songs like “Surrounded By Bunnies,” “Mr. Fancypants,” and “Chicknshit” blew me away then and now. This is a really cathartic piece of noise rock (or whatever label you want to apply). The recording quality is good, but maybe a little more raw than Doozy. It’s a really good record and you should check it out.
I don’t think the band ever really broke up so much as dissolved. They always claim that Lozenge is just sleeping, and I can’t wait for the day when it rears its ugly head once more.