It’s taken me a long time to warm up to it, but noise rock has finally found a place in my heart. I imagine other people have similar misgivings. It’s not that the subgenre is without talent, no not at all. It’s just tough when experimental music has built an insular culture around specific equipment and images. The reigning underground mores seem to state that it’s never grim and authentic to use a guitar. But finally, this pathetic cultural ethos seems to be fading, at least for me. More and more, I’m noticing bands like God is My Co-Pilot – an old band, but a new realization for me – meshing queercore with free improv. There’s also the immensely bizarre No Bra seamlessly stitching lounge with dissonance. To the list of little acknowledged noise rock gems, one should add the bizarre Baylies Band.
Hailing from New Bedford, MA, Balyies Band is somewhat of a veteran in the field. Having formed a whopping 18 years ago, the project brags that it’s gone through over 40 different members. It’s also played CBGBs ten times – hopefully causing at least one riot there – and it’s released scores underground gifts inbetween. Fronted by Eric Baylies, the project was apparently initially inspired by drug use and a misquotation at a bar – as is the origin with most great nights and experimentalism.*
“All Clowns No Lions” is a 53 minutes and 36 seconds tour-de-force of ever-shifting improvisation. There are shades of Sonic Youth here as well as Lightning Bolt and Nihilist Spasm Band. The standout though has to be the drumming. James Picardi mans percussion and in many ways holds this very long jam together. What makes his drumming style so unique is his obvious ability to listen and to mold his instrument to other’s melodies. This is done with an expertise that adds an infinite amount of space to the sound. I guess another comparison to make is to Han Bennink of the free jazz Peter Brotzmann Group. Even in the midst of utter chaos and misguided directions, both Bennink and Picardi have a way of creating a line of repetition within a storm that sounds simultaneously sacred and logical. Without Picardi, I fear that Baylies Band could verge on meandering.
What is perhaps the largest downside of Baylies Band is its utter lack of direction. Sometimes this can strengthen within the avant-garde. Free jazz for the aforementioned Peter Brotzmann usually meant a chaos producing aggressive and energetic saxophone. However, free jazz, free improv, and noise rock bands usually base their energy around years of classical training, knowledge of standards, or at least an abyss of existential dread. Baylies Bands sounds like it lacks all of these foundations – though I may be wrong. When the 53 minutes and 36 second jam doesn’t exhibit memories of post-rock or acid punk, it can occasionally degenerate into a couple of guys messing with pedals and strings. Some essential element is missing in the mix to produce meaning. But there are still moments – typically after the 35-minute marker – where Baylies Band reach an enlightenment where all instrumentalists finally work together to creating something new through noodling that bests the legends of free improv. Unfortunately, these oases are few and far between within the hour-long track. If only there had been a few more sessions recorded and edited out, then maybe the 18 year-old Baylies Band would be the other name for Sonic Youth.