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"
"Limited LP version, first released on CD in 2011. In downtown New York City, in 1979, painter Jean-Michel Basquiat and performance artist Michael Holman founded their industrial-sound band, Gray. Jean named the band after Gray's Anatomy
(the human anatomy textbook), an important reference source for his
paintings and the perfect name to capture the haunting, machine-like
ambient music the band wrote and performed. In the Whitney Museum's
catalog for Basquiat's 1991 Retrospective, Robert Farris Thompson, professor of Anthropology at Yale, wrote this about Gray: "They worked the Mudd Club, CBGB's, and Hurrah's in New York, where Blondie and the Talking Heads
were at that time emerging. They performed, in other words, at the
epicenter of New Wave. Here they contended for space and recognition
with a style that, in Basquiat's own words, was 'incomplete, abrasive,
and oddly beautiful.'" In an Interview magazine review (Jan. 1981) Glenn O'Brien
wrote: "Gray became an industrial sound effects band. They played on
scaffolds ... Lately, they've really developed their own groove... it's
sort of an easy listening bebop industrial sound effects lounge
ensemble." Besides Basquiat and Holman, other members of the original
group were Nicholas Taylor, Justin Thyme and Vincent Gallo.
Just after Jean-Michel Basquiat's passing in 1988, Holman, Taylor,
Thyme and Gallo re-united as Gray and performed at Basquiat's Memorial
at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in the Citicorp Building. In 1996, the
making of the MiraMax feature production Basquiat brought Gray's
three original members (Holman, Taylor & Thyme) back together as
they reenacted one of their legendary gigs at the Mudd Club with Tony
Award-winning actor Jeffrey Wright playing Jean-Michel Basquiat.
While reenacting their Mudd Club gig, the members of Gray realized that
1990's pop/ambient music sounded a lot like what Gray was doing in the
past. Inspired by their own historic sound, the band decided to return
to the studio to create and record new music. This "new" Gray sound
evolved from industrial bebop to electronica with poetic vocals and
groovy beats. Michael Holman and Nicholas Taylor have now reunited once
again to produce the first Gray album ever, titled, Shades Of...
on their own label, Plush Safe Records, that harkens back to Gray's
sonic roots -- industrial noise melded with electronic atmospheres. This
multi-track compilation includes and involves sample tracks from Gray's
earliest recordings and performances, with samples of Basquiat's music
and voice. The other tracks range from Stockhausen-inspired fugues, to trip-hop lanced throw-downs. Holman & Taylor were fortunate to work with John Cale's drummer Dean Anthony on this new music, as well as fabled Tubes drummer, Prairie Prince and downtown scenester/drummer, Lenny Ferraro. Shades Of...
is not only a living piece of New York history, it's also an audio
interpretation of a journey to where Taylor & Holman see the future
of music. #'d edition of 1000, all copies signed by Michael Holman &