(Here’s another review from reader Adam. Cheers mate!)
I’ve wanted to get to know Controlled Bleeding for a very long time. I mean, Controlled Bleeding is such a cool name to start with, and, more importantly, their name kept turning up in the context of early ‘80s noise/power electronics which is a soft spot for me (and, luckily, it seems there’s more and more archival releases collecting hard-to-find cassettes and vinyl from that era). So was I happy to read a couple years back that a 2 LP picture disc set was to be released, containing their classic Knees and Bones album plus other material. Alas, this plan kept changing and, as a result, Knees and Bones hasn’t been re-released yet. However, this box set more than makes up for that: the original plan of 2 LPs was scrapped and instead we got a 4 and 5 CD box, respectively – 200 copies include 4 CDs and the other 200 contain a bonus 5th CD (I’ve got the latter version).
The box set focuses mostly on early material of this American band (whose only constant member is Paul Lemos). The first recordings are from 1977(!) but there’s also recent material, up to 2009. What struck me with this collection is how diverse the music is – the late ‘70s/early ‘80s stuff is basically punk-influenced rock, although in one track there’s already some quite unusual vocal acrobatics by Joe Papa who had just joined the band and whose vocals would later play an important role in the band’s music. After these more conventional beginnings (which are nevertheless interesting to hear, even if from a historical perspective), a major change came about in 1983: as Lemos puts it in the liner notes, the band threw their musical past in the garbage and started charting hitherto unknown sonic territories, producing “the most punishing wall of noise possible”. This is an approach I find captivating (even though I’m no musician myself): when someone doesn’t accept existing rules of music (or art in general, for that matter) and leaves all traditions and their personal musical experience behind (at least on a conscious level, of course) to discover little or unexplored musical realms, not knowing exactly how to proceed or where they’ll arrive…. of course, in the early ‘80s there were a lot more experiments possible to be done than today, as the history of early noise/power electronics shows.
The majority of the box set is material from 1983-1985: lost Knees and Bones sessions and two cassettes (their first, self-titled one and Shitslipper). Some of this stuff is extreme noise, sometimes with power electronics-style screaming. We don’t hear this kind of music as groundbreaking now but in 1983 it was pretty uncommon and radical. However, in other material there’s already a shift away from pure noise, incorporating quieter and more atmospheric (but pitch black, of course) elements. I guess the band felt they’ve explored a certain style of music and felt the need to move on.
After 1985 there’s basically a gap in the box till the 2000s. Again, the aforementioned diversity is also characteristic of the more recent material: there’s almost ethereal ambient, noise, improvised music, dark industrial noise and even Zappa-influenced guitar rock. Plus there’s a couple tracks by The Breast Fed Yak, a crazy improvisation unit with the ubiquitous Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins, Koenjihyakkei, Korekyojinn, etc.).
You might ask, is there a common thread running through all this diversity, something that makes it Controlled Bleeding, no matter what the genre? I do hear a quality that connects these recordings: it seems to me Controlled Bleeding have always been trying to reach something “complete” in whatever style they were making music in; perhaps their many-sidedness and their full interest in everything they did is what makes them what they are. None of the tracks feel like they were done on the side to everything else and thus aren’t as worthy; you get the feeling these guys are genuine in everything they’ve done. Their different sides all combined make up Controlled Bleeding as a whole; listening to, say, only their improv or noise stuff doesn’t give you the full picture.
I also have to mention that I don’t know anything other than this box set by them and this means I’ve been missing out on a lot: they’ve got quite a few releases and again, in wildly different genres. But this box offers a glimpse into this diversity and I assume what I’ve written in the previous paragraph applies to their entire body of work. You might have noticed “Volume One” at the end of the box set’s title: there are several more archival boxes planned, so here’s hoping they’ll span the band’s entire career, just in case I don’t get around to hearing their proper albums.