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Forced Exposure

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“Fred Frith’s Guitar Solos totally blew my ass outta my slacks.”
–Byron Coley

Critics seldom mention their own buttocks. I don’t understand why. A literary work capable of sending a critic’s esteemed rear from its trousers would be one I’d want to read.

With some luck, your local independent music record store sells back issues of Forced Exposure. Extant from the early 80s into the 90s, Forced Exposure focused on independent and experimental music. Critic Byron Coley authored many of mag’s trademark capsule reviews. These tiny paragraphs are, for me, Forced Exposure’s draw, and valuable as both criticism and poetry.

Coley’s ability to approximate the listening experience with prose can be as accurate as it is poetic. Of saxophonist Arthur Doyle, he writes: “Tenorist Arthur Doyle possesses a tone so spine-rakingly raw that he sometimes sounds as though he’s Albert Ayler’s barber, strangling a horse in the backroom of his tonsorial parlor.” Of Borbetomagus & Voice Crack’s Asbestos Shake CD (Agaric/UHK-LANG), he writes: “Soaking yr head in these sounds is a wonderful way to sweep the cultural cobwebs outta yr dome, to allow the wheeze of everything to settle over you like a haze of fine wine.”

A Coley review often flouts its purpose of addressing the music in question, and dwells elsewhere. He’ll look at packaging and liner notes, for instance (from a review of Albert Ayler’s Love Cry CD (Impulse/GRP)):

Also, it must be noted that the booklet for the CD features a most incredible photo of Donald Ayler, holding his trumpet and looking at it as though an alien had just burst through the studio wall and placed an extraterrestrial turd in his hands. It’d make a great t-shirt.

He also celebrates (or eviscerates) the artist in question. Here’s a thumb’s up for Jandek’s Twelfth Apostle (Corwood Industries) in full:

“after the incredible electric explorations of his last LP, Jandek returns once again to the solitude of his colossaly collapsing acoustic universe. As w/ many of his previous recordings, Twelfth Apostle moves through aisles of dark grey boxes searching for a pair of slippers that would fit Nick Drake’s cat. His playing, singing and writings are at a peak here, suggesting much more linear development of his muse/talent than is often the case. I’ve said it a thousand times before, I hope to say it a thousand times more: no one is creating a body of work w/ more off-track cohesion & beauty than Jandek. You will be doing yrself a great favor by investigating his pockets.

The review “addresses” the album in its most surreal sentence, and spends most of its paragraph on a macro examination and celebration of Jandek’s career.

While their worth as music criticism is sometimes questioned, Coley’s reviews are prose poems of such wallop that you can’t care. Here’s the complete review of Gate’s Guitar LP (Majora):

“Michael Morley is not just a painter of browned butts. Nor is he merely the lord of Bruce Russell’s tiny kingdom. No, sir. No, ma’am. He is a self-defined giant in the realm of spong-tongued solo gtr scraping. 25 yrs after Braxton’s alone-in-the-world lip motion caused the group-think bastards to sit up and cough phlegm all over their suede vests, Michael Morley sat nude on the edge of a filthy bed and made his “axe” whistle itself into another universe. Parts of the first side are a little stodgy, but the “flip” is a singular jaunt into the cosmic crotch. Real fetchy, especially for Buddy Holly fans. I mean, he’s dead, right?

Sure, knowledge of the various references here (Russell, Braxton) wouldn’t hurt one’s understanding, and the curious could do research. But the artists Forced Exposure reviewed were obscure to begin with; the obscure references within the reviews compound the issue, and encourage readers to look at the reviews as something other than criticism. A reader may appreciate the writing for all its arcane resonances, like a poem whose symbols resist interpretation. I mean, what’s in a “cosmic crotch”?

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All of the above excerpts come from Forced Exposure’s final issue, #18, published in 1993. These days, Coley’s writings can be found in Arthur Magazine’s “Bull Tongue” column (which he co-authors with Thurston Moore), as well as The Wire magazine’s “Size Matters” section.