Circus Mort, Circus Mort

Philip Sherburne

By Philip Sherburne

on 11.27.11 in Reviews

After discovering punk rock in Los Angeles, Michael Gira played briefly in a local band, the Little Cripples, before moving to New York and teaming up with his friend Rick Oller to form Metal Envelope, which became Circus Mort. With Gira singing and Oller playing guitar, the band was rounded out by the brothers Dan and Josh Braun, later of the Del Byzanteens, on bass and keyboards; future Swans drummer Jonathan Kane joined before they recorded their lone release, a 12-inch EP released in 1982. It sounds nothing like Swans, with echoes of surf rock, milky organs, period flange effects and a herky-jerky sense of groove indebted to the Contortions and Wire – the very epitome of the era’s “angular,” Cubist guitar rock. (Here Kane proves himself a remarkably dexterous drummer, far more fleet of wrist than on any of Swans’ turbulent early recordings.) Gira’s lyrical preoccupations already gravitate towards chants and sneering imperative commands (“Curse you, curse you, curse you”), but his delivery, alternating between shouts and whispers, is far more conventional for the time. The band was “not a very consequential enterprise,” Gira admitted in a 2010 interview. “We made an EP. It was kinda new wave or something. In any case, it wasn’t very good.”