Heavy Vanguard: Naked City // Torture Garden

We’ve talked about John Zorn before on Heavy Vanguard (and everywhere else too), but not much about the project he’s most famously associated with: Naked City. Founded in 1988 and featuring a handful of the New York Downtown scene’s best players (Wayne Horvitz, Henry Cow‘s Fred Frith, Bill FrisellJoey Baron, and, later, Japan’s own Yamatsuka Eye) Naked City was on a quest to test the limits of a rock band format through a sort of free jazz/grindcore hybrid that played through nearly every style of music ever, all within a matter of seconds, referred to as “miniatures”.

Torture Garden is a compilation album, taking the miniatures from the band’s first two albums (Naked City and Grand Guignol) and reordering them. As such, there is rarely ever a break from the insanity—Zorn squeals on alto like a derranged animal, and he and Eye provide some vocals that you can’t help but laugh at, meanwhile changing musical themes at the drop of a hat.

While Scott and I both like this album (I personally adore it—it’s among my favorite albums ever), I do mention in this episode that Torture Garden isn’t without its faults, the biggest really being that it overshadows everything else in the Naked City catalog. NC gets pigeonholed into that avant-grind sort of mold, despite the fact that releases after Grand Guignol—such Leng Tch’eHeretic, and their final album Absinthe—actually move away from that formula and are among the most underrated albums in the Zorn catalog.

Nonetheless, Torture Garden is worth a listen, and is a great little album if you like grindcore but want something a little bit different.

Recommended Listening:

  • PainkillerGuts of A Virgin; Buried Secrets
  • Naked City—Radio
  • John Zorn—50th Birthday Celebration Vol. 10: Zorn/Eye Duo

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