New York City was much different in the early 1980s then it is today, and without Carnival Crash. The city had a dangerous seediness that was fueled by a Reagan era recession and a deadly arms race that was being perpetrated between the Super Powers of East and West. Everyday could be your last, and the young people of that time questioned everything and trusted no one. They banded together with a “can’t take it with you” attitude that challanged all of the prevailing norms of Reagan’s 80’s America. This cacophony of chaos was the genesis of the post-punk movement, which created some of the most iconic music in history in dank & dirty NYC punk clubs like CBGB and the famed 82 Club.
Bands like the Talking Heads and Television transcended from the punk scene to legendary heights, but for every success there were a multitude of brilliant but brief post punk outfits that never made it out of the NYC scene. This unfortunately was the case for Carnival Crash, a three piece dynamo that lasted just about two years, but luckily for the listener, this obscure trio left us a glorious time capsule. Their legacy of recordings, compiled on It Is A Happy Man (Obelisk Records), stands the test of time. This seven track gem of an EP is the reissue of two different recording sessions that Carnival Crash engaged in back in 1981 and 1982, before they ultimately disbanded later that year.
The now defunk trio was comprised of Norman Westberg (guitar), Ivan Nahem (vocals/drums), and John Griffin (bass/vocals). Although the lifespan of Carnival Crash was short, the members left their mark with tracks like “Tell Tale Heart.” Nahem’s vocals and Griffin’s bass paint the picture of a smoke filled club with sticky floors and plenty of patrons adorned in black leather “slamming” to the hypnotic beat. The band showcases Westburg’s club seasoned guitar stylings, as well the band’s affinity for the classic monster genre with just a dash of twisted humor with numbers like “Frakenstein” and “Edge Of Night.” Both songs could easily be used today on any maccabe low budget horror flick soundtrack.
Carnival Crash brings out their inner Bauhaus with Griffin’s haunting vocals and Nahem’s spot-on percussion work for the album’s fifth and sixth tracks “Nostalgia” and “Method 1.” The recording fidelity on these tracks could be described as poor compared to today’s digitally sanitized world, but these numbers were recorded on a TEAC 4-track recorder way back in 1981. The roughness and grittiness of these recording works in complete synergy to the Carnival Crash’s artistic aesthetic. There are no fancy modern Pro Tools production gimmicks like auto tune on this EP. The band just provides a boat load of reverb with healthy dose of post punk angst and pure artistic expression.
Although their tenure as a band was brief, the members of Carnival Crash continued to create powerful and provocative art throughout the years and are still at it even today. Norman Westberg went on to join Michael Gira as the guitarist for NYC experimental rock band Swans, which would eventually disband in 1997. Westburg still creates music performing and recording as a solo act. Ivan and his brother Andrew formed Ritual Tension with Michael Shockley and Marc Sloan which has recently re-formed after their dissolution in the early 1990’s. They are currently touring and have recorded a new album It’s Just The Apocalypse, It’s Not The End, will be released this Fall on Arguably Records. John Griffin is still producing work as a painter and musician . His latest musical project is called the griffin morrissey catastrophe.
It Is A Happy Man by Carnival Crash will be released by Obelisk Records later this month. The record will be pressed on a limited run of 150 copies on chartreuse vinyl as well as being available in a digital format.
Key Tracks: Tell Tale Heart, Fool, Frankenstein