Shades of... (LP)

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Formed by NYC performance artist Michael Holman and painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gray were a chameleonic ensemble of likeminded multimedia artists involved with downtown NYC's fertile cultural scene during the post-punk era. They counted among their ranks Nick Taylor, Wayne Clifford, and Vincent Gallo. They thrived at CB's, the Mudd, and Hurrah's, and ably juggled a mixture of ambient drift, industrial texture, and the embryonic bounce of hip-hop and a pinch of jazz. Until the release of Shades of Gray, their only recorded evidence was the now infamous "Drum Mode," from Basquiat's tenure with the group which was featured on Gomma's Anti NY compilation, a cut made for Julian Schnabel's biopic Basquiat, which saw the group's members reunite for the first time, and the will'o'wisp jazzy lullaby "I Know," featured in Edo Bertoglio's film Downtown 81. This collection compiles those cuts along with fifteen other impressive experiments, all interwoven with excerpts from a Basquiat prank call/performance piece made to an unsuspecting suicide hotline. What's impressive about this collection is the way it manages to absorb the musical, cultural, and environmental elements that surrounded the group's lifespan, and spits them back out in ways that both echo and foreshadow. I hear everything from This Heat and Cabaret Voltaire to John Lurie, Guru, and Diamond D in there, being chewed up, digested, and always respected, but released in fusions which evolve in ways similar to that of downtown Manhattan itself -- as the years jump-cut forward to the late-'80s/'90s, the production's a bit snazzier, the chords are a bit gentler, but the modus is still there, and the dirt and grit is still under the surface. There's an impressive foreshadowing/parallel to the current crop of LA-based beat science coming from Flying Lotus and the Brainfeeder crew as well; anyone who's shown interest in what those new cats are up to, or anyone with anthropologic feelers on the downtown/post-punk NY scene should scope this limited LP pressing immediately.

-Mikey IQ Jones (November 11, 2011)

"Cut It Up High Priest"
"I Saw You Liking Everything"