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Mark Kramer stopped using his first name long before Jerry Seinfeld's not altogether dissimilar, if less musical, neighbor became part of the cultural vernacular. Joining Eugene Chadbourne in the Chadbournes, he played bass and "cheap organ"; with the addition of drummer David Licht, that group became Shockabilly. A rapid, voluminous output resulted before the group splintered to an end in 1985; Kramer then spent six months playing bass for the Butthole Surfers. After returning from a debauched European tour with that band, he turned his attention to his studio, Noise New York (later relocated to become the larger and more remote Noise New Jersey), and label, Shimmy-Disc, which he quickly filled with an endless stream of his productions for others — as well as the output of his own '80s bands, B.A.L.L. (which became Gumball upon his departure) and Bongwater (a duo with actress/performance artist Ann Magnuson that ended in an ugly legal battle).
Kramer's first proper solo album came on the heels of the dissolution of both of those groups (in, respectively, '90 and '91). The Guilt Trip is a monumental feat. Recorded with Licht and guitarist Randolph Hudson III, the three-record set (also issued on two CDs) is structured with a complete understanding on the pacing of six sides of music. Sonically, Kramer layers on an array of hot-wired psychedelia — some of it grafted to simple pop song structures, some of it to grand instrumental overtures. Lyrically, it's a highly personal work that throws love, devotion, forgiveness and atonement into the mix. Although Kramer announced the release as the first of three such tripleheaders attending a film project, what followed was The Secret of Comedy, a conventional-length single album. Although similar in sound, it's ironically less focused than its enormous predecessor, a dark work laced with Kramer's catchy songs and brimming with surprises. The Japanese Music for Crying compiles nineteen songs (recorded between '85 and '94) from Kramer's solo and collaborative albums.
As producer, arranger, instrumentalist and label magnate, Kramer played an essential role in the career of King Missile (Dog Fly Religion); he subsequently made albums with both of that group's original principals. Kramer provides an aural setting for John S. Hall's drolly comic monologues on Real Men. Using his own compositions, samples and a barrage of sound effects, Kramer succeeds in upping the ironic ante of Hall's surreal metaphysics without stepping into the cliché-ridden quagmire of poetic noodling. Officially teamed as a duo, Kramer and Dogbowl (Stephen Tunny) made Hot Day in Waco and Gunsmoke, the solidest musical offerings in the Dogbowl canon (which also numbers four solo albums). Either one is a perfect entry point into the singer/guitarist's idiosyncratic but friendly songs.