The heroically weird, jazz-damaged art rock of Laddio Bolocko
08:45 am
The heroically weird, jazz-damaged art rock of Laddio Bolocko

One of the more interesting untold stories of the ‘90s underground rock explosion was the existence of a midwestern micro-genre so obstinately difficult and obscure that it never even got a name. It was, at its base, metallic post-hardcore, of which there was plenty around at the time, but this stuff was distinguished by unrelenting whiplash time signature changes and an aura of bottomless menace. The sound was typified by St. Louis’ Dazzling Killmen and Cleveland’s Craw (early work by Pittsburgh’s Don Caballero fit the mold as well, but on becoming well known they got lumped into “Post-Rock” by writers who had no better ideas on how to categorize them), and while it would eventually have an impact via the somewhat better fortunes of Keelhaul, in their time those bands steadfastly toiled away at mind-blowing, innovative, uncompromising music only to encounter the indifference of a scene that just didn’t want to take things as far as metal-as-test-of-mettle. Craw are lately experiencing an Internet-era disinterment complete with a retrospective box set and a one-and-done weekend of reunion shows this month. (Disclosure: a band I play in is opening one of those shows.) I’m unaware of anyone talking very much about the Killmen anymore, which is too bad, as their Face of Collapse deserves a close, critical listen by anyone interested in extreme hard rock and its construction.

In 1997, Killmen drummer Blake Fleming (who has also served stints in Zeni Geva and the Mars Volta) and sometime Craw saxophonist Marcus DeGrazia formed the jazz-damaged and heroically weird Laddio Bolocko with bassist Ben Armstrong and guitarist Drew St. Ivany, both veterans of Chicago’s revolving-door noise collective Panicsville. Fueled by This Heat, krautrock, and Downtown skronk, the quartet lived communally in Brooklyn, NYC’s pre-gentrification arts enclave Dumbo, literally playing together all the time, and so they grew a close musical kinship uncommonly quickly, releasing the first of their three self-released EPs Strange Warmings of Laddio Bolocko on their own Hungarian imprint within months of finalizing their lineup and adopting their name. Per Fleming:

Living in our practice was all part of the design of Laddio. There was no separation between “life” and the band—it truly was our life. We would listen to records, have philosophical discussions, and then improvise for hours being completely inspired and fueled by each other. We existed in a vacuum the way the best gangs do. We would improvise every day for hours a day and an ESP developed. Strange Warmings came about from these improvisations and from everyone bringing in snippets to more fully formed ideas. Despite all of the free form improvisation, we were all still enamored with pop music as well. “Goat Lips”, the opening track from Strange Warmings, as funny as it may sound to some, was our version of “pop.” We thought we were a fucking pop band sometimes! That’s just how out we were. The whole process of Strange Warmings was over and done with product in hand within a couple months of starting. We were doing it all ourselves and it was a very concentrated time.

“Laddio Bolocko” is the name of an actual man from my hometown of Alton, Illinois, an old Greek guy who owned a popular restaurant in the 70’s and 80’s called “Lotteo’s”. His name was Lotteo Balaco, so I took his name and changed the spelling—I knew that was one band name that would not be taken.



Shortly after the release of Strange Warmings, the band/commune relocated upstate to a disused ski lodge north of Woodstock, where they’d write and record their second EP In Real Time, a more pensive and organic record as befits the change in surroundings. It’s my favorite of the band’s works, largely because of the meditative gem “Wallkill Creek Survival” and the archly krauty “Laddio’s Money (Death of a Popsong),” which eventually turned up in David Cross’ 2003 video Let America Laugh.


^^ NSFW: Baby-feeders

Their final EP—and at about 12 minutes, their most concise—was 1999’s As if by Remote. It’s their most forthrightly Post-Rock work, and yet in some ways it’s their poppiest release—Fleming’s observation about the band thinking it was pop wasn’t so far from the mark, ultimately, as they could craft some really enchanting songs, even in an experimental milieu. It contains the gorgeous, lugubrious jazz of “Karl,” the unabashedly sunshiney “A Passing State of Well Being,” and the hypnotically percussive title track, also the soundtrack of the band’s only video.

Despite having improvised all day every day for more than three years, Laddio Bolocko never released a full length album. This has never once bothered me, and it actually feels like a canny move—the EP format keeps in check the excess by which rock and pop music with avant-garde leanings can easily die, and they pushed their luck hard on that measure early on, with their 35 minute, three-note opus “Y Toros.” But it’s often occurred to me to wonder where everything else they made went after 2001, when the band splintered into the teutonically gothy Electric Turn to Me and the boldy noisy Psychic Paramount. A 2003 release called The Life & Times of Laddio Bolocko compiled the three EPS, and it’s still in print, but it contains no extra cuts. Those gaps were finally filled in recently, when the No Quarter label released Live & Unreleased 1997 - 2000, 3xLP/DVD set with liner notes by Oneida’s Kid Millions. It’s exactly what it says on the lid—a collection of unreleased studio improvisations and live tracks that captures Laddio Bolocko in the full glory of its uncannily psychic on-the-fly live interactions. Fleming again:

[Guitarist] Drew [St. Ivany] had been sitting on all of these tapes and put together a comp that he sent to me out of the blue last spring or early summer. We all fell in love with it, reliving some intense memories, most of which are good actually, and Mike Quinn from No Quarter said he’d put it out. For us and for our audience it filled in some big gaps and helped to paint a more complete picture of the band. None of this would’ve come out if it wasn’t for Drew going through and salvaging what he could from boxes of tapes in various stages of deterioration.

No Quarter has been making noises about possibly re-releasing the three EPs on vinyl, but nothing about that is concrete, and as we said, the CD comp is still available. The label was kind enough to allow Dangerous Minds to share the box set’s “Afrostructure Pt. 1” and “Realm of Ideas Cs.”



Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The Triptastic Sci-Fi Krautrock Afrobeat Sound of Lumerians

Posted by Ron Kretsch
08:45 am



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