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Absence of Ceramics

January 6, 2007

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It’s a little known fact that from about 1986 to 1993, Christian music had an underground cassette culture that paralleled the 1980’s underground music scene that gave us artists like The Dead Kennedys and Eugene Chadbourne. It was an exciting and unpredictable period when you could read about a fascinating group from some out-of-the-way place, send off for a $6 cassette tape, wait two weeks for the tape to show up at your doorstep, and then blow a fuse on the unbelievable music you were hearing. No Laughing Matter and The Lead are probably the most renowned groups to come out of the Christian sector of the cassette culture, but there were many others, including a post-punk/college rock outfit from New Jersey called Absence of Ceramics (or AOC).

AOC was fronted by Thom Inglin, a Christian in his early twenties who discovered the world of punk rock and post-punk while working at a record store. Inspired by these bands’ ability to create great music within the limitations of their musicianship, Inglin decided to try his hand at creating great music within his own limitations, little knowing how original and artistically successful his attempts would be.

Every one of AOC’s cassette-only releases were recorded on four-track cassette recorders, which was pretty much the standard for DIY underground bands during this period. What set AOC apart was Inglin’s ability to harness the lo-fi tools that were at his disposal and create dark, dense, haunting, shrouded soundscapes unlike anything else in existence. “I would listen to what I had just recorded and be amazed at what I had done,” Inglin recollects. Using solid pop song structures as his foundation, Inglin would then give these songs sonic treatments that would render them disconnected and in a world unto themselves. Easily the best example of this is AOC’s first album, 1987’s The Exception to the Rule, which lures the listener into an unsettling environment where drum machines tick like time bombs, acoustic guitars pound and electric guitars pine like disconnected sounds in a haunted house, and Inglin’s distortion-treated voice growls and whines about the uncertainty of the world he is luring you into. The album was released at the 1987 Creation Festival, where the original 100 copies Inglin made quickly sold out. The editor of Notebored, a prominent Christian underground magazine from the period, heard the album and enthusiastically carried a cache of cassettes to the Cornerstone Festival to sell there, where the band’s reputation continued to grow.

After this initial success, Inglin formed a band around the project, consisting of Thom Inglin on guitar, Garth Kolbeck on bass, and Kenny Warner on drums; this would be the band’s line-up for most of the project’s existence. Their first album as a full band, One Last Guy (1988), proved to have a more straight-ahead Athens, Georgia-style jangle-rock sound but not without strong overtones of the haunting atmosphere that made The Exception the Rule the great album that it is. For the third effort, Inglin and Kolbeck compiled an album of compositions that each had recorded separately, which was released in 1989 under the title Softdrinks for Terrorists. The results vary a bit, but overall the Twilight Zone-like world of The Exception to the Rule was back in a slightly different form, with the chilly atmosphere of “Anger” riddled with ghosts and ending with a crash, and the acoustic “Lifting” opening with an NRBQ sample and ending with a creepy, sped-up “I’m Big Bird, thanks for calling…” repeating over and over, amongst numerous other icy snapshots and brooding phantoms in AOC’s world of the unexpected.

AOC’s next album, 1991’s Surgery, was their most mature release, returning to the Athens-style college rock sound they had visited in One Last Guy and finding the band at their most professional as musicians and songwriters. But just as progressive rock band Procol Harum’s music had a haunting presence no matter what they did, so AOC’s music on Surgery is drenched with the same haunting presence of the previous albums, even with a stronger self-assurance in place. A few of the songs find the band at their most aggressive and punkish, others end suddenly before you expect them to, leaving you dangling like the hanging ending of “The Lady or the Tiger?”, and still others are just solid examples of collegiate rock that out-perform those by many more famous groups in the genre. Sadly this album was overlooked and did not resonate with its audiences and critics quite as strongly as did the previous entries in the AOC canon, and the band had to resort to playing the “impromptu” (read “open mic”) stage at the 1991 Cornerstone festival, whereas they has been part of the New Band Showcase previously. A fifth album, entitled Chalk, returned full-circle to Inglin manipulating the controls by himself again, but sadly the album was never released and the band subsequently dropped off the map.

Inglin still listens to AOC’s albums regularly, even though time and circumstance (or, as Thom would rather say, the Sovereign Will of God) has moved him into being a church worship leader and family man with a supportive wife who home-schools their two teenage daughters. “I have had the opportunity over the past five years to gather and develop godly musicians, building them into a humble and passionate worship team . . . who play skillfully within their limitations (emphasis added),” Inglin told the author in a recent email. “This has been infinitely more gratifying than my experience with the ‘rise and fall’ of Absence of Ceramics.” Although he has no plans to revive AOC anytime soon, the shrouded musical world Inglin created with AOC continues to lurk in the closets of the Christian cassette culture’s fans, waiting to be discovered again.

David Gasten

Similar Artist :

www.myspace.com/absenceofceramics

Audio Sample : 90 seconds

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7 comments

  1. Discography:

    The Exception to the Rule (1987)
    One Last Guy (1988)
    Soft Drinks for Terrorists (1989)
    Surgery (1991)
    Chalk (unreleased album, recorded in 1993)


  2. man, i totally remember this band – are their records still available?


  3. Where do you remember them from? There are some copies available…or so I’ve heard!


  4. Great news! AOC just started a Myspace page! Right now it features two tracks from the unreleased album “Chalk” (1993). That page is at:

    http://www.myspace.com/absenceofceramics

    The “Chalk” material is some of their best yet–and still haunting as hell.

    You might know AOC from the 1991 Cornerstone sampler that featured a song on it. Also they were covered in Cornerstone magazine, The Cutting Edge, and Different Drummer. Contact Thom Inglin through MySpace to see about purchasing their material; I know that he still has cassette copies of “Surgery” for sale and may have others as well.

    Oh, and a minor correction: “One Last Guy” (1988) was recorded to 8-track; all the other albums were recorded to 4-track though.


  5. I have been an AOC fan for almost 20 years! I saw them at Cornerstone 1991 and bought all the tapes from Thom. I have had them all these years and still listen to them regularily. His stuff still sounds as fresh as it did then. I have to say that my personal faves are hte two “band” recordings “One Last Guy” and “Surgery”. His rocked out version of “Let It Be” on OLG is just priceless. It’s such a shame these albums are not out on cd. I’m trying to get my tapes transferred to disc before they wear out, because they are darn near irreplaceable I fear. AOC was genius, I have to say. Some of the best music out there that was just criminally overlooked. I did visit Thom’s myspace page, and exchanged an email with him. Hope to hear the rest of the Chalk album real soon…


  6. Oh man! I bought these guys tapes in the 80’s at the Rad Rocker Emporium when Cornerstone was at the old fairgrounds site. Then when I saw them at Cornerstone 1991 I shouted and pleaded and begged for them to play “avalanche.” Funny… I don’t remember if they ever played it! :-) I do remember Thom replying to my shouts with, “ava-who?”
    Good times!
    Now I’m 38, married and have 4 home schooled kids 8 to 13 yrs… Times change!
    Sad-Note… All my tapes and CDs got stolen in 1994 and now I live off of fond memories!


  7. I camped next to the band at Cornerstone, must have been 1988 – I was 14. Great band Thom. What happened to Craiger, I always wondered
    ?



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