By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
No guts, no glory
As My Mind Drifts Off
There's a place where rock and roll ceases to be "music," a hard-to-find location where the guitars and drums and bass and vocals collide and degenerate into tuneless, directionless noise. Whether you call it "experimental" or "art" or "avant-garde" or the sound of one hand strumming, the results are the same: The music turns in on itself, the surface disappearing to reveal only this mess that can be as beautiful as it can be ghastly. The folks who make this kind of chaos and noise aren't so different than surgeons, sticking their hands into the blood and muscle carefully yet casually only to pierce and realign the internal organs.
The Vas Deferens Organization, headed by Matt Castille and J. Scott Sutton (who records under the nom de noise J. Bone Cro), is basically a collective of musicians who have given up on rock and roll's form but still cling to its fury. The VDO output, most of which is available on hand-packaged-and-printed cassettes, consists of experimental noise barely recognizable as music; it's a faceless, anesthetized sound that finds beauty in static and chaos in a drone.
Dragline--vocalist-guitarist Chip Graham, bassist-percussionist Jordy Nelson, and drummer-percussionist Scott Brayfield--is yet another member of their collective: party members working for the same subversive cause. They're young kids (two of the members are in high school) for whom golden oldie is a term that most likely refers to artists like Can and Faust and Neu! and Eno, the first and best musicians to use the traditional rock setup to transcend that very same limiting tradition.
As My Mind Drifts Off is a record on which it seems everything and nothing is happening, an album that builds quite literally to a climax if you take it for granted for one second. It whispers at first, setting its atmospheric sounds to a rock and roll backbeat. "Doze," the first track, is just that--an ambient, airy, arch lullaby; and "Space 1" combines so many nonrock sounds (chants, sirens, various bleeps) with so many rock instruments and mumbled words that it creates something gorgeous and otherworldly.
Then, suddenly, the record builds to an almost shrieking finale, the closing handful of songs dissolving into discord and static. From that apparent mess emerges something wrenching, even if it recalls nothing so much as a botched autopsy from which you can't avert your eyes. By the time the album reaches "Escape from the 100 Ft. Woman" and "Space Cadet," it sounds as if the band is playing through a transistor radio turned up to 15. The guitar is reduced to fuzz, the vocals become an echo, and the combination is uncomfortable and unrelenting. It's the closest thing to "rock and roll" on the whole record.