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JFK - La Bas 1987-1992

La Bas coverLa Bas 1987-1992 is the second offering collecting the work of JFK, following on from the Teenage Fantasy 1987-88 double vinyl set. JFK was an early project of Anthony Di Franco of Skullflower, Ramleh and Ax. While Ethnic Acid featured his experimental electronics, JFK revolved around psych guitar and rudimentary drum machine rhythm. JFK was the vehicle for what Di Franco considered his more rock approach. There are some real surprises to be found here, alongside the 'Temple of Set'/'Sexodus' 7-inch that appeared early on in the Fourth Dimension discography. Matthew Bower of Skullflower appears on three tracks too. The blackened noise found on Ax's retrospective compilation Metal Forest was something of a revelation, and these recordings as JFK show that Di Franco's early forays into noise-rock were way ahead of their time.

'Big Fat Sin' blasts off with a rubbery wired up guitar sound against a rudimentary rhythm. Like a whimsical take on Chrome, with sporadic bursts of feedback and the clatter of drums. It's distorted, woozy and fuzzed up but lacks any real focus, when compared to the likes of 'Temple of Set' and 'Sexodus'. And even though 'Big Fat Sin' offers the template of what JFK would become the following three tracks throw some real curveballs with diminishing returns. 'Omen' which lets rip with some fuzzed up rock riffing over primitive drum action is pretty good though. I dunno, I can hear elements of Loop, Spacemen 3, and especially Terminal Cheesecake in the spaced out psych-garage sound but the spoken, drawled and playful vocal outpourings owe more to the Butthole Surfers or something. It's out there, anyway. A hazy, stoned presence can be found on 'Aktion In A 10/6' with its crawl paced billowing buzz chords hovering over primitive electro rhythm and clanking percussion to which Di Franco, in adolescent voice, spews out a stream of consciousness lyric type thing. 'Will To Love' seems to crossover into Ethnic Acid material as the chugging bass, layered with mistuned acoustic guitar spirals into a throbbing, mass or mess of sound. Bursts of analogue electronics merge with tape treatments which end up overshadowing the duelling guitars as the entire thing sinks into a bizarre mixture of samples, treated vocals and electronic effects. They don't really add much to the confused mess going on here though.

It takes a while for La Bas 1987-1992 to coalesce around a vision. But it starts with lulling waves of fizzing electricity and the monstrous roar of distortion that comprises 'Avernus'. The entire track sounds more reminiscent of Di Franco's later output as Ax - recently collected and released as Metal Forest. But it does set the tone for the remainder of La Bas 1987-1992. By this point Anthony Di Franco had become involved in the ever-changing line-up of Skullflower, and right after his first appearance on a Skullflower session, Bower started a brief period of recording with JFK. With its primitive deathbeat thuds, low end bass action and some sluggish guitar riffage emanating feedback squeals 'Black Tower', the first of their collaborations captured here, falls clearly into early Skullflower territory circa Birthdeath and Form Destroyer. 'Teenage Fantasy' (which of course lent its name to the first JFK retrospective on Harbinger Sound/Hospital Productions) pushes way beyond the rock sound of all JFK songs - and Skullflower too for that matter. A dark, dense sludgey mass of sound, wrapped around howling deep bass tones, distant hollered vocals, and tight black psychedelic guitar meanderings. It's by no means a Teenage Fantasy, it's a nightmare. This one really captures the sound of Broken Flag rendered through rock instruments.

La Bas 1987-1992 finishes on the two tracks they committed to vinyl for a 7-inch single on Fourth Dimension way back in the early nineties. (Trainspotter alert: 'Feel The Weight', JFK's other vinyl contribution on Fourth Dimension was listed as previously unreleased on the Teenage Fantasy 1987-88 even though it appeared on the Tearing Down The Barricades compilation) Both tracks are as great, if not better than I remember them. Solely recorded by Di Franco, 'Temple of Set' sets the drum machine rhythms to overdrive as the fuzzed up bass runs riot through the dense distortion and crushing rhythmic beats. This like the following a-side 'Sexodus' track falls into the whole industrial sludge type thing that labels like Fourth Dimension, Dying Earth Europe were pushing at the time. The aforementioned 'Sexodus' sets off from jackhammer rhythms bursting into a wall of howling distortion with only the rampant heaving earth-quaking bass breaking clear, as it runs up and down the scales. It's strong enough to knock you sideways and like 'Temple Of Set' still carries more than a hint of the guitar destruction that Skullflower were creating at the time. An alternate version of 'Sexodus' with Matthew Bower providing guitar squall also features here. This shortened take is much looser kicking of with a burst of feedback, before lunging into a lighter tinged echoed bass throb, accompanied by rudimentary drum pound as it ascends and descends the bass notes.

While the first half of La Bas 1987-1992 falls into that category marked "interesting" the second half capturing JFK in some sort of warped distorted rock mode is well worth hearing. La Bas 1987-1992 when compared to the tracks compiled on Teenage Fantasy 1987-1988, captures a more expressive and expansive rock sound than the embryonic recordings found on Teenage Fantasy 1987-1988. All of these recordings were done when Anthony Di Franco was still a teenager, so it's kinda weird to be pouring over such formative recordings. That much of this still packs a punch is a testament to the prodigious talent of Anthony Di Franco. Nowadays Anthony Di Franco performs as Ax and is a key member of Ramleh. Di Franco revived JFK for an appearance at the Never Say When: 30 Years of Broken Flag festival in 2012, and has a new JFK album forthcoming on Turgid Animal. The early work on La Bas 1987-1992, however, figures as another piece in the jigsaw of the early UK noise underground. Great stuff, but the CD limited to a mere 300 copies may be difficult to locate. There's no need to fret though as a double vinyl edition in an edition of 325 copies with a revised track listing will be available soon. For more information go to www.fourth-dimension.net