The original intention of this column was to listen to all the records in my collection in alphabetical order by album title. I’ve abandoned that for the most part. But I’ll come back to it periodically.
In an effort to make their audience stop shouting “Aaaaaaaa!” at the VFWs and house parties Aa frequented in their earliest incarnation, the band released an essentially eponymous one-sided LP on Hollywood’s Narnack Records with their name spelled out as they’d like it to be prnounced: big A LITTLE a. While I find the text-shouting extremely rude and uncalled for, it clearly helped anyone who decided to write about the band, as many reviews of their work mentioned served to teach the public how to say the band’s name, much like reviews for !!! (or Chk! Chk! Chk! or Pow! Pow! Pow! or something equally stupid) hoped to garner coolness points from the hipster jerks the music was directed at. And though Aa isn’t quite the institution that !!! is, I do admit that this LP title is helpful – and the band is smart enough to realize that they’re not going to get as much press coverage as some of their peers, so emblazoning instruction isn’t a bad idea at all. In fact, I take back the rudeness quip – it’s just savvy marketing.
I don’t really know if Aa hit up VFWs and house parties or what, but they sure sound like they’d hit those staples of the scrappy noise-punk/no wave scene. Atonal and weird, these dudes employ multiple drummers (like Foot Village), shout their lyrics unison (like Foot Village), and punctuate their short tribal freakouts with synth stabs (like Foot Vil… hey! That’s more like Single Frame. OK, enough Foot Village. They share a city and some aesthetic qualities, but they don’t sound the same). The energy is high, constantly, even on the dronier passages, and the tracks whip by in a hurry. The whole record, all ten tracks, lasts just over 18 minutes. So you don’t really need to breathe in the midst of it – you can do that when it’s over. (Presumably you, like me, can hold your breath for 18 minutes.)
So to say big A LITTLE a is a caraaaazy listen wouldn’t be too far off. It’s wild and primitive and exciting. But just when you think Aa is gonna get going, they stop completely, or transition into something that halts the momentum. In that sense it’s also a frustrating listen, as some of the tunes – “Fate or Self-Improvement,” for example, or “Segway (No-Rad)” – simply hint at what’s possible in an expanded Aa universe. “Fate” flirts with noisier ends of the Single Frame spectrum, with crushing toms and frantic shouts, but lasts a scant 46 seconds. That’s the M.O. on the faster stuff – if only there were more of it! Aa mix in slower, more expansive passages highlighting their experimental streak in tracks such as “Red Eunuch” and “Flag Day” and while there’s nothing wrong with these, and in fact they’re pretty interesting as such, I’m still left wishing there was more action.
Aa would remedy this somewhat as they further refined their sound for 2007’s superior gAame (“Thirteen” should be their theme song), but big A LITTLE a remains as good a starting point as any. And I’ve yet to mention some of the band’s touring partners, which should clue you in on the wide audience they reach: Sonic Youth, Mindflayer, Japanther, Lucky Dragons, Orthrelm, Lightning Bolt, and XBXRX, to name a few, and they also played in the Boredoms experiment “77 Boadrum” in New York. That’s some heady company, occupying a vast spectrum of avant-indie-or-what-have-you. Some would say a who’s who of the experimental elite. So I think that, my little quibbles aside, Aa as a band is certainly worth the effort to hunt down, and although your enjoyment may depend on your reaction to what I’ve outlined, they’re certainly hitting the sweet spot of tribal drums + yelps + electronics – now that’s a pretty good math problem to solve.
RIYL: Single Frame, Foot Village, Excepter, Liars’ They Were Wrong So We Drowned