Music

James Chance & the Contortions: Soul Exorcism Redux

This newly remastered live set of post-no wave free-jazz funk is the perfect way to exorcise your twitchy soul.


James Chance & the Contortions

Soul Exorcism Redux

Label: ROIR
US Release Date: 2007-05-22
UK Release Date: 2007-06-04
Amazon
iTunes

At the early dawn of the 21st century, as a new wave of lean-tuned art punks came crawling out of New York City's small club scene, one of the hippest LPs to covet was 1978's No New York, the Brian Eno-produced album that sampled four acts from that city's underground music scene. These groups were lumped under the banner "no wave" in order to distance them from the still freshly minted new wave crowd of Talking Heads, Blondie, and Television. James Chance & the Contortions were one of the bands on that compilation. They contributed four tracks, as did noise rock pioneers DNA, Mars, and Teenage Jesus & the Jerks. Saxophonist, songwriter, and vocalist James Chance had been a founder of the latter, but, frustrated with the group's direction, jumped ship to start his own thing.

What is that thing? It's more difficult to define than the style of his peers. The others were noisy, atonal, screeching no wave purists. The mind of Chance, on the other hand, sought greater connections and a broader sense of musicality. He was into the punk, but also the funk, the soul, the Afro-pop, the rock, the whatever. In the late '70s and early '80s, he distilled this all into a slinky-yet-agitated groove, sounding like a coked-out, paranoid, and patently Caucasian James Brown. His sound was both an exaggeration and a minimalization of what Talking Heads were constructing at this same time. On his two albums from 1979, Off White (which was recorded as James White) and Buy, Chance supplied the skeletons for contemporary "disco punk" bands like !!! and the Rapture.

On tour in 1980, however, he sought to blow his own sound wide open, heating up his own chilly style with looser and fuller grooves. A Rotterdam concert from this tour was caught on tape and, in 1991, issued as Soul Exorcism. In the recording studio, Chance's nervous energy was rattling around inside of him, like a bottle of soda that's all shook up. On this live album, the top has popped off, unleashing a growling and yelping frontman.

He and his crack backing band kick off this concert in totally weird style, covering, off all people, Michael Jackson. Just one year after Off the Wall, Chance and his Contortions were offering their own take on "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough". Remember, this is back when Jackson was still a black man; it's impressive, then, that Chance out-funks Jackson's ass on his own tune. As entertaining as that cut is, the band's take on the aforementioned James Brown's "King Heroin" is haunting and intense. Slow, somewhat disjointed, and injected with darkness, the song matches the drug's effect and features some crazy, Hendrix-like guitar squalls.

Most of Soul Exorcism Redux, though, is occupied by originals. Of these, only Chance's classic "Contort Yourself" had previously appeared on a studio LP, making this album even more daring. As if their riotous outpouring of red-hot sound weren't enough, the Contortions were blasting the audience with a set of almost entirely new tunes. From the sound of the crowd, they were lapping it up. And why not? It's not everyday you get Fela Kuti-like extended jams played with the wound-up nihilism of post-punk. I guess some could argue that this rarity is a good thing. It is a crazy sound, and one not suitable to everyday listening. But, if you're all bottled up and ready to explode, then this newly remastered CD is the perfect way to exorcise your twitchy soul.

As something of a P.S., Soul Exorcism Redux comes with three 1987 demos tagged on at the end. Coming after the rapturous workout of the live album proper, these thin, drum machine-backed song scribbles couldn't be more out of place. I'm certain they're here only as bait to get the die-hards who already own the first CD pressing to cough up the bucks for this Redux edition. Really, though, the original set speaks for itself. No bonus tracks are needed to render this disc a must-have for all you fans of post-no wave free jazz Afro-funk rock 'n' roll.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".

Film

Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"

Books

'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.

Music

Regis' New LP Reaffirms His Gift for Grinding Industrial Terror

Regis' music often feels so distorted, so twisted out of shape, even the most human moments feel modular. Voices become indistinguishable from machines on Hidden in This Is the Light That You Miss.

Reviews

DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.

Film

On Infinity in Miranda July's 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In a strange kind of way, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is about two competing notions of "forever" in relation to love.

Music

Considering the Legacy of Deerhoof with Greg Saunier

Working in different cities, recording parts as MP3s, and stitching them together, Deerhoof once again show total disregard for the very concept of genre with their latest, Future Teenage Cave Artists.

Music

Joshua Ray Walker Is 'Glad You Made It'

Texas' Joshua Ray Walker creates songs on Glad You Made It that could have been on a rural roadhouse jukebox back in the 1950s. Their quotidian concerns sound as true now as they would have back then.

Music

100 gecs Remix Debut with Help From Fall Out Boy, Charli XCX and More

100 gecs' follow up their debut with a "remix album" stuffed with features, remixes, covers, and a couple of new recordings. But don't worry, it's just as blissfully difficult as their debut.

Television

What 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Taught Me About Unlearning Toxic Masculinity

When I first came out as trans, I desperately wanted acceptance and validation into the "male gender", and espoused negative beliefs toward my femininity. Avatar: The Last Airbender helped me transcend that.

Interviews

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi Remake "I Am the Antichrist to You" (premiere + interview)

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi team up for a gorgeous live performance of "I Am the Antichrist to You", which has been given an orchestral renovation.

Playlists

Rock 'n' Roll with Chinese Characteristics: Nirvana Behind the Great Wall

Like pretty much everywhere else in the pop music universe, China's developing rock scene changed after Nirvana. It's just that China's rockers didn't get the memo in 1991, nor would've known what to do with it, then.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.