Sunday, 15 June 2008
Half Machine Records/ Chrome 'Half Machine Lip Moves'
When I came to name this label in 2006 I wanted a name that didn’t really mean much to anybody. I didn’t want to have a label whose musical output was defined by its name (for example a label called WAH PEDAL RECORDS would probably only ever release bad funk by white people with dreads). So I settled on Half Machine Records, after one of my favourite albums – Half Machine Lip Moves. Nobody I had met, at that point, knew who Chrome were, so it seemed like a good idea (I’ve since met Steve Webbon who signed the band to Beggars Banquet in 1980, who told me a few things about that band, not to be repeated here…).
Chrome were based in San Francisco, USA. The core duo of Helios Creed and Damon Edge released the album in 1979 on Siren (re-released on Beggars Banquet in 1980). Half Machine Lip Moves sounds like a collision between Suicide, The Stooges, SPK and Cabaret Voltaire. It’s nasty sounding industrial sci-fi noise made by a glam rock band.
A little bit of history:
Under the innocuous name of Chrome, two San Franciscans — Damon Edge (vocals, synths, etc.) and Helios Creed (vocals, guitar, etc.), with part-time rhythm-section assistance by the Stench brothers of Pearl Harbor's band — created an often awesome series of pre-industrial LPs that explore a dark state of mind only hinted at by '60s psychedelia. Taking cues from Suicide, Can, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, The Residents and anyone who ever made home tapes in their bedroom, the pair's dense, chaotic science-fiction epics are vivid vinyl nightmares — a thick blend of mechanical noises, filtered, twisted voices and fantastic, bizarre lyrics — that flesh out a frightening world both absorbing and repellent. Though conventional song structures are preserved to the point where tracks can be distinguished (indeed, the duo's early efforts aren't all that far from semi-normal guitar rock), Chrome's strength is its ability to create sounds of horrible beauty that transcend discreet musical units. If not as conceptually out there or as ear-splitting as the noisemongers and goth-rockers that followed the duo, Chrome's sonic intensity is still something to behold.
Review of Half Machine Lip Moves from Julian Cope’s Unsung website:
TV As Eyes
March of the Chrome Police
You've Been Duplicated
Half Machine Lip Moves
Damon Edge - drums, moogs, tapes, etc
Helios Creed - guitars, vocals, bass, etc.
Gary Spain - bass, violin, etc.
John L. Cyborg - "data memory"
A mighty industrial metal scraping noize devolves into a 1973 Stooges riff that sounds like it was recorded in a tin shack in 1957, cheapo drums start crashing away like The Trashmen. The only lyric you can make out is the sneered "I dunno whyyy!" at the end of every line. After 90 seconds a Faust-like dissolve through grinding, chattering zounds, creepy moog organ, analog tapes running backwards and flipping off the spindles . . . . the noise slowly fades as a chugging metal riff builds and BUILDS -- with acid lead guitar flourishes and a tambourine accompaniment! The jam that follows exists somewhere between NEU! and Judas Priest. Another abrubt edit, bells & scraping, then a new trashcan beat with hyper-distorted barely audible vocals buzzing like a bee and whining like a dog. An occasional spiral circus guitar riff, miscellaneous clanking and feedback. The beat changes again into yet another funky robot trashcan groove, with new squelchy guitar interjections, still many miscellaneous strands of noise burbling in & out of the brew whenever it feels right. The vocalist is actually singing words now, strangled drunken mumbling that makes the "recorded in a dumpster behind the Qwickie-Mart" sound of the Beastie Boys most fuzzed-out vocals sound crystal clear.
You've just made it through the first two tracks of Half Machine Lip Moves, entitled "TV As Eyes" (one of the best song titles ever I must say) and "Zombie Warfare". Welcome to the unique soundworld that is Chrome!
I can't imagine what people thought of this deeply mysterious band from San Francisco in the late 1970's, to the extent very many people were aware of them at all at the time (or even today.) But there are some artists who come along and are clearly "from another time" -- not necessarily "the future" but just "not from now", and though there is a "futuristic" vibe going on here I wouldn't say anyone else has copped the Chrome sound these past 25 years, nor ever will again in the future. I think one of the key things that makes them so unique is that they came along right at the end of the analog era, and in some sense took the analog audio tomfoolery of your VU's, Fausts and Zappas to the furthest extreme it would go. Then everyone went digital, so the kinds of blurry swiping tape-manipulated zounds found here are virtually unduplicatable today (unless one were to use the old analog equipment, but even then good luck figuring out what's going on here or how to recreate all thoze noizes!)
But equally important, they don't just fuck around with the tapes, they RAWK! Helios Creed lays down badass heavy metal rhythm guitar riffs and berzerker psychedelic leads (often backwards and/or played at the wrong speed.) Damon Edge's drumming is a perfect balance between kraut-motorik-funky and crazy-drunk-garage-band.
So the vibe created is definitely very Sci-Fi, but no gleaming clean surfaces from Beyond The Year 2000 here. It's a bit like in the original "Alien" movie (also from 1979 coincidentally), where the technology is "advanced" but the space ships are dank & dirty and all the equipment keeps breaking down. Science will not only bring forth smiling nuclear families with robot maids flying around in hover cars, but also ever-more-crowded metropolitan slums and squalor and new designer chemicals to help stave off (or feed?) dread and paranoia. To borrow a term coined nearly a decade later, Chrome's is a "CYBER-PUNK" vision of the future.
And could a band possibly be more "underground"? You can't hardly make out a single word on the whole record. The tracks all blur together, and many of the "songs" are really just a series of random riffs and interludes spliced together. Someone is even credited with "data memory" in the musicians list, presumably a purely technical function like turning the tape machine on and off and manipulating it's speed. We may never know.
Chrome had released two LP's before this one, the ultrarare "The Visitation" (1977) where they don't quite have their sound together (Creed wasn't aboard yet) and "Alien Soundtracks" (1978) which is also a classic though to me sounds like a warm-up for the dense majesty and mystery of "Half Machine Lip Moves." The Edge-Creed team made several more obscure records through the early 1980's, eventually embracing drum machines, more intelligible lyrics and a generally less outlandish sound (sort of goth-industrial-dance rock with a hint of metal -- but still definitely mysterious and "underground.")
One of my Personal Top 25 albums of all time, this is certainly one of those records you can keep returning to and find new things buried in all those layers of ZOUND.
All but one of the tracks from this album ("Critical Mass") are included on Cleopatra's excellent "Chrome Box" 3CD set which covers the years 1978 - 1983.
Review from Sounds magazine 4th October 1980:
‘Meet You In The Subway’ from the Ralph Records ‘Subterranean Modern’ compilation, released in 1979: