ALBUM REVIEW: CHROME - Alien Soundtracks
This month, Outsid/In is focusing on the concept of REFLECTION, choosing an album by an influential punk/noise/industrial band named after a shiny metal enhancement.
What we see as "chrome", or the reflective material on classic cars and motorcycle parts is not a metal in and of itself. It's a chemical process where the reflective chrome surface is grafted (plated) onto an existing metal surface.
If we're going to force a connection in the first paragraphs of this review, we can safely say it’s not our fault. The connection is right there in the band’s name: CHROME. Shiny, metallic, synthetic, hiding something rougher and less pretty to look at.
There, we did it. Today we're reflecting on 1977's ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS, the second album by CHROME, from San Francisco. Essentially two members: Damon Edge (Vocals/Drums) and Helios Creed (Guitars), supplemented by John Lambdin on guitar, this record was the start of their most inventive, groundbreaking and thrilling era as a group, lasting nearly until Edge's death in 1995.
What you're hearing is a San Francisco thing for sure. There's an obsession with the sounds of acid (just the sounds...the band didn't play music on LSD as much as they were inspired by the experience of hearing music on acid), with psychedelic guitar leads, long trippy drawn out passages full of repetition (a label exec called it a "messed up Doors album" in a rejection letter, the band was proud of this distinction) and the requisite Western understanding of Eastern chanting as an elevated soundtrack for better and better drug experiences.
But there's also something else. Something far more interesting, plated to the rough surface (there, we did it again) of the CHROME sound on this, their second album. There are blasts of mangled tape, found sounds from broken televisions, droning synthesizers, crude drum loops, and the sounds of humans gleefully smashing pieces of metal together. In 1977.
What else was happening musically in 1977 that sounded like this? Possibly a lot, possibly not very much. What matters here in 2021 is that CHROME's influence persisted. They didn't conquer the world of white rabbits and psychedelic head trips, but they inspired bands like Killing Joke and Pere Ubu, who would inspire Ministry and Jesus Lizard who would inspire Nine Inch Nails and anyone looking to use new technology to graft dissonance and chaos onto their version of "listenable" music. One could even argue that the line continues all the way to brand new provocations by artists like Sophie and 100gecs.
After this album, CHROME would jettison their only other member, calcifying around Edge and Creed as the two core members. The subsequent album, READ ONLY MEMORY introduced new member John Q. Cyborg (just a drum machine with a funny name), HALF MACHINE LIP MOVES followed with RED EXPOSURE close behind, each one a step toward a more effective delivery device for the schematic they had constructed on ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS. Less organic rock and roll, more mechanized intensity. Less shiny. More CHROME.