Almost twenty years ago Jason Willett was plunking out the bass notes for Half Japanese, a band that would become one of the most celebrated cult heroes of experimental rock. Opening for Nirvana on their In Utero tour, being name checked by Thurston Moore in interviews, featuring guest appearances from Moe Tucker and Ira Kaplan, they certainly bore all the signs of being a major contender in that early 90s scene.
The Sounds of Megaphone Limited is mostly a collection recorded in 1995 and 1996, with some 2000′s recordings peppered in. Although the record features some help from Jad Fair, the sound is purely Willett’s, featuring none of the charming naivete of his first band, and in fact eschewing most of the more tuneful songs released under the name of Jad Fair and Jason Willett for the more abrasive and atonal end of his repertoire. There is one song from Leprechaun Catering, but for the most part the songs are neither electronic nor as rhythmically cohesive as what you may be used to from that band.
Perhaps the most startling thing upon reading the liner notes is that the album is mostly the product of guitars and percussion, standard rock and roll instruments (except for Shitty Kitty, who contributes some meowing) played with a focus on texture, and the way vastly differing sounds combine. Irrational and truly bizarre for most of its duration, Megaphone Unlimited has on its surface, a mostly amateurish feel: the drums kind of retarded, the guitars either lazily plucked or completely dismantled.
Except for the obvious fact that amateurs couldn’t possibly reproduce something so consistently and fearlessly.
There is much in the way of free-jazz style noise (X-Ray Eyes’ “Snorkel Talk,” with its barely-there rhythm and skronking melodies), concept art (The Pleasant Livers’ “A Room Full of Happy Days Extras” really does sound like a collaboration of a bunch of people playing completely disparate parts), but there is more to suggest John Cage in the evocation of chance and occasionally arbitrary sound.
The most striking moments come from the Can Openers, whose radical rethinking of melody and rhythm (not to mention lyrics) lead to seemingly random collisions of tectonic sound. Occasionally Willett’s ear for melody comes to the surface, as in “Beautiful Song w/Kick Drum Solo” which lives up to its name (although I do wish the kick drum solo was longer) and the Jaunties’ relatively swingin’ “Chewing Gum.”
But ultimately it is the denser compositions, the pieces lost in a moment unlikely to ever be replicated, chance combinations of many disparate parts at once, that are the most memorable sound of the disc.
01 Jason Willett – Song recorded immediately upon return from X-Ray Eyes Tour
02 The Can Openers – You Can’t See Me
03 Jad Fair & Jason Willett – Or So I’ve Been Told
04 The Jaunties – Everything is Flowery Goodness
05 Jason Willett – Short Tune w/ Thematic Piano Melody & Stomping Beat
06 The Pleasant Livers – A Room Full of Happy Days Extras
07 X-Ray Eyes – Snorkel Talk
08 The Attitude Robots – Inst. w/ Funky Midsection
09 Jason Willett – Beautiful Song w/ Kick Drum Solo
10 The Can Openers – Abugga
11 The Jaunties – Chewing Gum
12 Jad Fair & Jason Willett – Friends
13 The Pleasant Livers – Why Name It?
14 Jason Willet & Ruins – Finale from (& now a short opera)
15 Jad Fair & Jason Willet – Avabella
16 X-Ray Eyes – Shreddies
17 The Dramatics – Club Leaf Foot Hopper
18 The Dentures – Mellow Jam w/ Authentic Sax
19 Leprechaun Catering – Live at Floristree
20 The Jaunties – Call Donut World
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