❉ We look at the reissue of 1989 album Undertow, and Andy Hawkins’ revived solo project Azonic.
Blind Idiot God has been the musical project of guitarist Andy Hawkins since 1982, an instrumental trio whose work pendulums from pensive, high density hard rock to langorous, revivifying dub. At this point joined by Gabriel Katz and Ted Epstein on bass and drums, nowadays with Will Dale and Tim Wyskida in those roles, BIG’s outiut, four albums only in thirty years and the decision to eschew any vocal presence in their music, testifies to their less-is-more philosophy. Hawkins has said that his attitude to most hard rock is “Great intensity! Boring chords!”, and BIG’s music is a rumination upon how to maintain interest in powerchording and force without becoming showy or superfluous – how to remain fluid.
Back in the eighties, when I’d bought my Huskers LPs, I’d take time to peruse the A4 free catalogs that SST Records would thoughtfully/greedily include with every purchase. There just seemed so much to explore, all of it intriguingly alien as SST artists helped reshape and rethink what rock music, post punk and hardcore, could actually be. It’s probably because there was so much choice that I managed to miss BIG’s 1987 self-titled debut album lurking in there, but hearing them now, they sound like a crucial, albeit almost totally overlooked piece of the jigsaw.
Hawkins formed his own label – Indivisible Music – in 2014, and is currently embarking on a reissue programme of BIG’s ouevre. 1992’s Cyclotron, a further collaboration with their mentor Bill Laswell, is due later, but out now is a remastered edition of their second album, 1988’s Undertow. For context, recall that in 1988, former labelmates of BIG were coming out with definitive step-changes such as Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation or Dinosaur Jr’s Bug (mirrored in the UK by the likes of MBV’s Isn’t Anything or Loop’s Fade Out). Also on the prowl, however, were the more lumpen likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Uplift Mofo Party Plan, which demonstrated how hard it was to be light-fingered when mixing genres and how trad licks sometimes hid under flags of convenience. (Indeed, Undertow contains a telling sprint through Funkadelic’s Alice In My Fantasies, as if to say “We can do this, too… but that’s quite enough”).
BIG steer a path through all these possibilities, resisting mere machismo-aerobics, dude-ism and noise for the sake of it. Volume is vital to them, but not in order to simply impose; instead it’s the hovering and sustain and the subtler harmonics which matter (listen, for instance to how Drowning tails off into an extended coda of howls, or how Wailing Wall keeps you at bay with a constantly-unresolved riff hobbling the incipient funk of the rhythm section). Add to this regular hairpin caroms of tempo change and the laughing dub-splash tracks alternating with the crunchier moments, and you have a deceptively simple but genuinely rewarding work. Ignore the ominous overtones of the bandname; this is perhaps surprisingly vibrant music – I’d go so far as to call it fun – BIG’s impetus being to uplift and maintain rather than pulverise and splinter.
If Undertow is a little piece of history, Hawkins has also meantime revived his solo project Azonic, a beguiling adjunct to BIG’s soundworld. Drummer Wyskida spent years in sludge-rockers Khanate, so has serious form in providing detail and intricacies to imposing soundscapes, and here him and Hawkins dive deep into a more oceanic version of BIG’s reverberations with the improvisational album Prospect Of The Deep Volume One. Anyone fond of Hendrix’s more merman moments or a bit of Frippertronics now and then will find much to appreciate here; whorls within whorls, deep-listening feedback dronepieces with a thick top wave-layer of defibrillating guitar tectones. A counterpoint meander rather than an aggressive obverse, a further glimpse of a carefully-curated picture.
Seemingly somewhat of a connoisseur’s choice, then (the appended extra track collaborations with John Zorn and Henry Rollins on Undertow a clue to their peer-respect), there’s nothing to be lost by giving either of these issues a spin. If obscure, they’re far from obtuse, and deserve wider exposure as a notable ghost at the banquet of noise-rock.
❉ The above releases, plus Blind Idiot God’s 2015 “comeback” album Before Ever After, are available from Indivisible Music:
❉ Invisible Music plans to re-issue the remaining two out of print Blind Idiot God records (the self-titled album and Cyclotron) in the near future. The band is currently rehearsing the material for the fifth Blind Idiot God record, to be released in 2018.