Agony Shorthand

Thursday, July 29, 2004

As I understand it from those who know, this was the one CD to get from defiantly underground, Columbus OH-based first wave art/damage group VERTICAL SLIT, as it collected material from their 1977-78 debut records as well as from a wealth of cassette-only spewings. For those who followed the band closely, and there weren’t too many of ya, Vertical Slit & their now-deceased-by-his-own-hand leader Jim Shepard were way-outsiders revered for a sonically robust space rock that was full of cynicism and anger, and which also gained from a “submerged fidelity” aesthetic that rendered some aural puzzlement to their wailing keyboards & screaming guitars. Every time I tried to get into the band while they were around, I was stymied by actually listening to them. They stood for many things I enjoyed & continue to enjoy: conscious divorce from any ethos of the era (e.g. what the other kids are doing); reverence & obvious hardcore knowledge for their forebears (which I’ll call out as Can, Destroy All Monsters, Hawkwind, weird avant-geniuses like Kim Fowley, and a boatload of experimental music from the 20th century); and a wreck-the-speakers approach to making distorted, complex rock music. Things we all appreciate. But I always thought the end product was just “good enough” – good enough to intellectually appreciate from a distance, but never great enough to actually play repeatedly at home.

“Vertical Slit….and Beyond” does little to challenge my initial take on ‘em, though it’s by no means a bad disc. There’s a lot of angry musical staredowns going on in each creepy 4- or 5-minute sonic mélange, which ingests some of the aforementioned influences and spit out a creative, well-differentiated artpunk that was about as basement as it gets. Shepard comes off as a pretty frustrated dude, but one who certainly knew his ass from his elbow & who probably had more ideas racing through his cranium than he did the native ability to lay them down successfully. Where Vertical Slit ended and Shepard’s other band V-3 began I cannot say; there are numbers on this one (the pissed-off revenge fantasy “Party/Cop/Judge” being one of them) that I remember from V-3 material I once owned. (V-3 are the 1990s recipient of the Hampton Grease Band award for the worst-selling and most unlikely major label record, which in both cases means it was pretty good – great in the Grease Band’s case). If I could pick out even one track as the number I’d throw on my “Modern ArtPunk Space Pirates, Volume 4” comp CD-R for you, I’d at least have a Vertical Slit ditty to hang my hat on. But alas, such a number does not exist. Again, on paper it’s a potent brew, but I’d be shirking my duty as a teller of truth if I gave the Slit any more than the meritocratic 3 stars they dutifully earned. Respectful disagreements or new ways of seeking sonic truth are heartily welcomed.