My first exposure to DNA was from the film ?Downtown ?81,? which features performances from a few NYC groups of the time, as well as a lead performance from the late Jean-Michel Basquiat. But the scenes featuring DNA overpower everything else in the film, and I?ve returned to viewing just that section of the film a few times. The way the music combines with images of Arto Lindsay strangling his guitar and choking out lyrics about sex and scrabble, Tim Wright creeping on his heels and toes with a low-slung bass, and Ikue Mori determinedly pounding her drums, is unforgettable.
DNA on DNA includes all the official releases of the band (the ?You and You? single, their contribution to the ?No New York? compilation, the ?Taste of DNA? EP) as well as previously unreleased studio and concert recordings from the band?s short existence. The single and the ?No New York? tracks feature the trio of Lindsay, Mori, and keyboard player Robin Crutchfield. These early performances are minimal and anxious, the keyboard often carrying what little melody there is to be found while the drums offer a shambling backbeat that only compares to Palmolive?s work in The Slits and The Raincoats. Lindsay attacks the space created by the others with dissonant jabs at his guitar strings and a vocal delivery that can only be described as ?pained.? This stuff is a far cry, or yelp, from Lindsay?s Tropicalia-inflected solo work.
The substitution of Robin Crutchfield?s keys with Tim Wright?s bass expands the group?s dynamics considerably. Wright, following his tenure with Cleveland art-rockers Pere Ubu, fills the melodic role and enriches the sound with more complex chords and an intuitive rhythmic interaction with Mori. The lyrical content becomes more sexual and violent as something pretty close to definitive is created. DNA were probably the most successful No Wave group, artistically. Perhaps that is why they also lasted longer than any other No Wave groups without compromising their original combative stance.
Essays contributed to the liner notes by Byron Coley, Jason Gross, and Glenn O?Brien frame the history of the group within the punk and post-punk of the times. It?s clear that the group were innovators, often imitated but never equaled. That this music remains as challenging today (the unreleased track ?Grapefruit? struck me as unbearable on first listen, but its nonsensical infantile sonorities have grown on me) as it was back then (the very last track, a live recording at CBGBs in DNA?s final days, includes a heckling shout of ?You Suck!?) is notable. This isn?t easy music, but patience and a desire to be challenged will be rewarded by ?DNA on DNA.? 8/10 -- Sean Witzman (25 May, 2005)