Superior Viaduct

California Babylon
Superior Viaduct

Like much of its small catalog thus far, San Francisco–based label Superior Viaduct’s latest offerings are culled from its homebase’s rich, albeit under-appreciated, history of underground music. These two reissues cover the majority of the output by post-punk trio Factrix (they also released a 7-inch), who existed from 1978 to 1982. Comprised of guitarist Bond Bergland, bassist Joseph Jacobs, and Cole Palme, who on California Babylon is credited with glaxobass (your guess is as good as mine), tapes and treatments, the band’s output was deliberate, artful and shared the noisy aesthetics of the No Wave movement of their East Coast contemporaries.

Scheintot was recorded by the band in 1980 in Slava Ranko’s private library and was originally released in 1981 by V. Vale’s Adolescent Records, who had also issued Factrix’s single as well as records by The Sleepers (whose Tim Mooney recently died), among others. The record is divided into the “party side” and the “grim side,” though they aren’t as diametrically opposed as one might think. The album seems muted somehow, like it was recorded or mastered at a low volume, but it’s not a detriment, instead keeping the more frayed of the band’s songs from becoming unnecessarily dissonant. Similarly, on tracks like “Heavy Breathing,” it becomes hard to make each element out, lending to a feeling of disorientation. As such, when a distorted vocal emerges out of aether, it doesn’t really add a focal point. “Center of the Doll” stands out for being more structured, a minimalistic backing of mechanized beats, low-end keys, and guitar reverberations resembling the early emanations of Cabaret Voltaire at times (Factrix got that a lot).

Nonetheless, the grim side is preferable, if only because its added cohesion lessens the sensation of bumping around in the dark. “Ballad of the Grim Reaper” is the closest thing to a pop song to be found here, but with the chord changes barely discernible, even that semblance of melody is buried under gauze. Just to be clear: these are positive attributes. Factrix made music of a hearty substance that didn’t go down easy, but was worth the acclimation.

This is even more obvious on California Babylon, a live collaboration with Monte Cazazza recorded at the Ed Mock Dance Studio in 1981. The album was issued in 1982 by Subterranean Records, and here the band works in a noisier realm that bears more in common with what industrial pioneers like Throbing Gristle were doing on albums like The Second Annual Report. If there was an audience present, they were too mystified to applaud or interrupt what Factrix was creating. Cazazza’s vocals are barely audible, but again Factrix’s noisy aesthetic had more to do with texture and ambiance than it did volume. In fact, the bass rumble seems more central than the guitar, its subtle nodes providing each song’s direction. As witnessed here (and as attested by Julian Cope in his liner notes for Scheintot), Factrix had found a unique vector of sound, which though contained, presented them with all sorts of possibilities. Fortunately, the realizations of those possibilities were captured and now once again are back in circulation.
Stephen Slaybaugh