Although facts hardly define the audacious and experimental nature of their fiercely iconoclastic and thrilling music, let’s begin here: Erase Errata is Jenny Hoysten (singer and amateur trumpeter), Sara Jaffe (funkster guitarist), Ellie Erickson (in-need-of-Valium bassist) and Bianca Sparta (tribal drummer, whose cavestompings begin and end here, there and everywhere). They come from the San Francisco Bay area, and evince an uncompromising stance toward dance music. Think Gang of Four without the bread lines, or Beefheart without the Delta, the Slits with more jagged, funny dissonance. No band sounds like Erase Errata. Their music crackles with white electricity, a phone line long since gone down. The songs are brief, non-discursive; the vocals are mysterious yowls of a woman abandoning niceties of western culture. And the drumming seems clannish, ancestral, a pound pound of angry voices coming from a faithless dance floor and diminished world. Other Animals jumps right in and, for 29 or so minutes, never relents. The songs, and Hoysten’s singing in particular, are primitive slabs of funk noise. More deliberate than most art rock bands, but less polite than free form musicians, the band collapses the center bridges of the songs under a welter of yips and snarls. The music is almost infantile and developmental, with raging ids bouncing off each other. No 4/4 beat is large enough to contain all the inchoate ideas. This is noise that never softens. Take off your shoes, spill battery acid on the ground and dance to the herky jerky inhumanity.
The second album, At Crystal Place, is even better. The singing takes more chances, from spoken word ramblings that resemble human communication to an almost feral comical arena of drugged-out children making faces in a funhouse mirror. The songs are sped up, with fertile crosshatchings by more mature instrumentalists. Mature, of course, ain’t the word for the caterwauling: more like a deranged phalanx of drunken sailors, the voice is a strategy to melodically infuse antic color and quips to the spiky riffing, the short-lived bursts of chordal energy, the arrhythmic heebie jeebies. When the band slows down, the music becomes emotional and hypnotic, not intellectual and aridly smart. The Pere Ubuian “Flippy Flop” embraces more sonic collages, less headbanging disharmony.
Oddly enough, The Dancing Machine: Erase Errata Re-Mix, a collaboration with four other like-minded artists who redo a couple of songs from Erase Errata’s debut, is the band’s finest moment. Pumped up by the others, the girls let go, musically and ideologically, and this openness breathes fire and ice onto the proceedings. The distinctive trademarks merge into a loftier sphere of sharing and humility. These brilliant and imaginative reconstructions show the band smart as a whip as usual, but less dissonant, less mired in a shadowy cul de sac of humlessness. There’s still plenty of skirmishing and a few fireworks; everyone is heard, no one loses. The four colleagues are Kid 606, Matmos, Adult and Kevin Blechdom. The songs, which suggest a dead serious Eno or a playful Kevin Shields, show off the band’s softer, more swirling side. Blechdom (Kristen Erickson) uses pulsating, robotic energies to modulate (think Devo’s version of “Satisfaction”) the band’s more brutal impulses. The girls are still shiny caged beasts, but more contemplative and haughty, like hungry artists.