Around September of last year, I happened to come across a compilation from Soul Jazz Records entitled New York Noise (Dance Music from the New York Underground 1978-1982). I didn’t realize it then, but for the next few months, that compilation would be almost all I’d listen to.
If you’re looking to start exploring the no-wave scene that rose out of New York in the 1970s, this compilation is a great place to start. It contains an extensive roster of bands whose sound pretty well define what was, at the time (and to some extent continues to be), something not very easily united under one category. Among these bands was one I would continue to be drawn to the more I looked into 70’s no-wave culture: James Chance and the Contortions.
The sound of The Contortions is a strange blend of dance and punk, with some improvisational jazz thrown in for good measure—there’s scarcely a Contortions track that doesn’t have a saxophone screeching and fluttering in the front of the mix or a dissonant organ passage at one point or another. Inside this strange sonic landscape, Chance delivers vocals that sit somewhere between a lounge singer and a street preacher. Lyrics are riddled with imperatives, something that was channeled in Contortions live shows, where Chance would often get in physical altercations with audience members who he deemed were being “too passive.”
This new James Chance and the Contortions record, entitled The Flesh is Weak, is one of the better late-career records I’ve heard in a long while. It’s rare for any band with over 20 albums to keep me interested with their later work, but the strange, discordant charm that drew me to the first Contortion tracks is still present on The Flesh is Weak. While some of the more experimental elements have been dialed back a bit, Chance’s vocal delivery on many tracks is as wild as it’s ever been, and the driving rhythms and bass grooves are still catchy and inspired.
Whether you’ve heard James Chance before and are curious to see how the sound of the Contortions translates in 2017, or if you’re just new to no-wave altogether, I’d recommend listening to what this group has to offer. While it’s not necessarily my favorite material by them, it’s a good representation their later-era work, and a testament to how well their distinct sound holds up after all these years.
You can hear The Flesh is Weak on Spotify and watch the music video for the single “Melt Yourself Down” here.
More info is at http://jameschanceofficial.blogspot.com/
Favorite Tracks: “Melt Yourself Down” and “Snap It Back, Strip It Down”