|Tears in Heaven / Eric Clapton||Kinga Glyk||3:16|
The Minutemen may have come out of the same California hardcore scene that produced Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and Fear, but they not only bore little resemblance to their West Coast contemporaries, they didn't sound much like anyone else in American rock at that time. The Punch Line was the band's first album, packing 18 tunes into less than 25 minutes, and if the music shares hardcore's lust for speed and assaultive rhythmic punch, their sharp, fragmented melodies, complex tempos, and overtly poetic and political lyrics made clear they were rugged individuals; imagine James Blood Ulmer teaching Wire how to get funky and you start to get an idea of what The Punch Line sounds like. It wasn't until the band began to slow down a bit on What Makes a Man Start Fires? that the strength of the group's individual songs became clear, and The Punch Line works better as a unified sonic assault than as a collection of tunes, but moments do stand out, especially "Tension," "Fanatics," and the title cut, which certainly lends a new perspective to Native American history.
The Punch Line was as wildly inventive as anything spawned by American punk, and the band would only get better on subsequent releases.
Veteran early music keyboardist (and conductor) Ewald Demeyere here creates a really unusual program of 17th century keyboard music, unified by the general idea of the lament. Not every track on the album is a lament, but that's all to the good; Demeyere understands that even pieces with a specific memorial or merely melancholy function would sometimes have been played in the same suites and pairs that marked other kinds of keyboard music. Thus Demeyere puts together a group of dances to form a new Suite in F major by Louis Couperin, ending with a Tombeau de Mr de Blancrocher, a procedure that a harpsichordist of Couperin's time would have understood well. Another intriguing aspect of the program is that Demeyere crosses over the Renaissance-Baroque line, which has less importance for contrapuntal keyboard music that it does for other genres. From Byrd's masterly arrangement of John Dowland's Lachrimae Pavan the music goes forward in time, to Froberger and a later Pavan (or "Paduana Lagrima") by German composer Melchior Schildt, and backward to a sizable piece by Thomas Tomkins called A Sad Pavan for These Distracted Tymes. The reference is to the execution of Charles I of England, and the work is a rare example of an extended Renaissance work that does not emphasize virtuosity (although Demeyere does add some ornamentation in repeated sections). Demeyere plays a pair of powerful instruments: a replica of a Ruckers virginal used in the Byrd, Tomkins, and Schildt has an especially full tone captured in all its ringing splendor by the Challenge Classics engineering team, working at Belgium's Galaxy Studios.
The only thing missing is an understanding of the emotional content of the music, which comes out as scholastic as the picture of Demeyere on the album's cover. It's a shame, really, for the album offers a lot to learn.