Vincent Gallo once described himself as the kind of guy who'd attend a football game in a visiting team's uniform and cheer until he got killed. Divisive as a portcullis, with the stare of Rasputin, the Buffalo-bred director/actor/composer has certainly garnered his fair share of praise and scorn over the years: He's been called everything from an oily-haired Renaissance genius to an ultraconservative homophobe/bigot. Yet long before he made a splash in the world of indie filmmaking with his 1998 masterpiece, Buffalo 66, Gallo tinkered obsessively with old analog recording equipment, searching for sounds both radical and original.
Spanning twenty years of lo-fi trial and error, the bulk of these 29 tracks represent a time during the '80s in New York's art scene when hip young creative types were painting, making Super-8 films, playing in bands or -- as in Gallo's case -- doing all three simultaneously. After a brief fling in a conceptual quintet called Gray (a band that also featured millionaire art star Jean-Michel Basquiat), Gallo found himself broke and throwing together soundtracks for friends, including experimental upstart Eric Mitchell. Besides acting in The Way It Is, Mitchell's 1983 black-and-white homage to Jean Cocteau's 1949 Orpheus, Gallo wrote and recorded music for his pal's low-budget rarity.
Done on a mid-century Ampex two-track recorder, these resurrected, murky tapes sound as if they survived several brittle winters in a storage unit. Remastered from their original tape and gummed-up reels, they convey industrial mood and nuance ("A Brown Lung Hollering"), incidental motif ("Her Smell Theme") and sad, wandering improvisation ("Six Laughs Once Happy"). Strictly instrumental, the primitive soundtracks blend guitar, bass, clarinet, Mellotron, drums, marimba, tape loop, stick, saxophone and piano into unearthed artifacts that sparkle like an old dirty Polaroid.
More melodic but equally depressing are the nine quiet tracks from Buffalo 66 that, when taken out of context from the film's abrasively hilarious script, conjure a pungent and palpable hollowness. Recording on the fly after draining his budget securing the rights for music by Yes, King Crimson and Stan Getz, Gallo recycled one outtake from his earlier soundtrack ("Lonely Boy," the collection's only track with vocals, singer not identified) but scored the rest in two brainstorming days. Glaringly absent from the compilation is Gallo's abusive real-life father's rendition of "Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)," a tune lip-synched in the film with memorable creepiness by actor Ben Gazzara.
Six additional cuts from two early film shorts -- 1979's "If You Feel Froggy, Jump" and 1981's "Downtown" -- round out Gallo's curious vanity project with similarly grim results. But like his '66 alter ego, Billy Brown, a bitter neurotic who finally realized that the best revenge is simply living a good life, Gallo makes cheering for the wrong team feel heroic.