Taking Drugs To Make Music To Tear Music Apart To
In 1966, a group of downtown, drug-enthusiast, vaguely-antisocial, art-minded New Yorkers named the Velvet Underground rewrote rock'n'roll; exploding its familiar blues-riff form and assembling it anew in rough, ragged, jammed-out fragment.
Over 20 years later, in Washington, DC, a pair of VU acolytes calling themselves Royal Trux turned a similar trick, to more exaggerated effect. Like their source-of-inspiration, Royal Trux —former Pussy Galore guitarist Neil Hagerty and his girlfriend Jennifer Herrema— were approaching rock as artform, were working under the medication of opiates, were attempting to rewire what one could do with an electric guitar and an amplifier. They, too, were out to explode the familiar form of rock'n'roll.
But, where, 25 years earlier, one needed only to remove the genre's basic clichés to seem iconoclasts, Royal Trux arrived much further down the line —after punk, post-punk, hardcore, grunge, pigfuck, etc— and, thus, needed to take a more radical tack. Summoning the spirits of free-jazz —or, perhaps, being so on-the-nod it was hard to keep on beat— the duo sent songform shattering into a rain of fragments; massive washes of whorled, gnarled, discordant, incoherent sound mocking your uptight notions of 'songform.'
The Cacophonous Head
If Royal Trux had done such on a handful of singles, they'd have seemed like dabblers or dilettantes, but Twin Infinitives announced the breadth of their ambitions. Their second LP —and the first-ever record to be released on the soon-to-be-iconic Drag City imprint— was a 69-minute double-album in which Royal Trux's extremist recontextualization of rock's tired tropes was writ long, loud, and difficult to love.
Their chaotic cacophony is, even with the kindness of hindsight, not for the faint of heart, the closed of mind, or the sensitive of ears. Strident, scratchy, scraping, scarred, and constantly, consistently ugly, Twin Infinitives is a journey into the nightmare mind; a spectral repositioning of familiar sounds —voice, electric guitar, drums— into terrifying new forms.
In "Chances Are the Comets in Our Future," as erratic spasms of sheer guitar noise rub each other the wrong way, Herrema's voice is multi-tracked in a manner that sends each take colliding against each other. Sonic Youth —whose more 'outre' moments Royal Trux are comparable to— may've sung of schizophrenia, but Royal Trux actually made ideas of schizophrenia musically manifest; to listen to "Chances Are the Comets in Our Future," or many other cuts herein, seeming like a short-cut to madness.
Even when they're a little more tuneful —like the 15-minute, side-long "(Edge of the) Ape Oven," in which there's an actual repeated riff— Royal Trux are no less provocative; always undermining any steady rhythm with bursts of arrhythmia, any melody with a shot of sheer noise. The effect —even if occasionally unpleasant— is to keep the listener forever on edge, never comfortable.
This makes Twin Infinitives a curious beast. Though it can feel like a chore to suffer through, in some sense, in others its impossible to switch off. Of course, when it was released, most chose to switch off. Just like the Velvets before them, Royal Trux were half-ignored, half-derided upon arrival; written off as dopehead provocateurs, their music consigned to the 'too difficult' basket.
Yet, the years have been kind; and Royal Trux have influenced other essentialist rock duos —The White Stripes, The Kills, The Fiery Furnaces— using minimal equipment to make maximal sound; have inspired other out-rock acts —Gang Gang Dance, Magik Markers, Liars— to attempt to summon the tribalist throb of their noise-riddled primitivism. In such, it's hard to qualify Twin Infinitives —no matter how hard it is to listen to— as anything other than a total success.
Record Label: Drag City
Release Date: 15 December, 1990