By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
Liquid Diet. Soaking Wet From Your Brother's Tears. Paint Gurgle. The titles of Yellow Tears' releases are hardly window dressing. This Brooklyn trio's worldview is thoroughly saturated — splashes, drips, slurps, gushes, flushes, desperate, gargled gasps — set amid whirlpooling perversions of electronic noise imitative of violent viscosity. Provocative samples surface in the mix, but if the NYC trio has a patron saint, it's inarguably Piss Christ and Blood and Semen III photographer Andres Serrano, a cultural lightning rod whose materials routinely sicken audiences.
Horror-flick score clanks, smothering drones, and nightmarish madness defined 2009's Don't Cry (think freaking out in a maniac's mansion) and 2007's Shed traded mostly on dilating blitzkrieg blare (think a homicidal fire hose), but 2008's The Pissmop and 2010's The Cult of Yellow Tears are where the trio of Frank Ludovico, Jeremy Nissan, and Ryan Woodhall truly went wet. The former tapped into myriad permutations of liquidity and the possibilities of industrial, looped echo with the gung-ho virtuosity of a Sunset Strip hair metal guitarist; the latter suggested a bunch of determined dudes repeatedly mock-waterboarding each other.
Until now, a seedy bondage dungeon murk dominated the group's aesthetic. If Yellow Tears were Jackass + isolation tank + a charged Taser, new double album Golden Showers May Bring Flowers (Septic World International) is Jackass + isolation tank + a charged Taser + Luis Buñuel. The group's masochistic signifiers are in full effect, but Showers plays like a baffling, ponderous cross between a Happy Endings, a noise opus, and a coming-of-age drama. Here, crickets chirp at exaggerated volume as a group of friends wanders through a forest; there, a reverie of orgasms and New Age synthesizers is shattered by loud knocking and an admission that someone "was fucking a bush," which is sucked into the afterburner of a jet. Here random chatter sluices into crackling audio of swimming sounds and the looping, masticated emanations of children or birds; there sheets of dinner-party chit-chat are layered into inanity.
Bros goof on lame infomercials or bicker over viewing choices. Voices echo suggestively at the far ends of caverns. Fluids drip insistently through pipes. Unstable drones color or vaporize intelligible discussions; jingoistic gargling competitions at a fictional family park named Hosetown rage. Showers is a definite grower, an epic, 85-minute mosaic of miscellany and narrative intrigue five years in the making, as lulling as it is disparate. Even its creators concede that the album's strands don't add up and aren't really meant to.
"We first came up with the idea [for Showers] while touring behind Pissmop in the summer of 2008," Woodhall explains. "We came up with the title first, and knew that we wanted it to have a narrative." The concept, according to Nissan, was for Showers to be an "environmental record." The band members began to commit rambling stretches of found sound to tape and to record themselves in unguarded moments — traveling, hanging out, and cracking jokes — eventually amassing "entire hard drives of stuff we didn't use." Gradually, by the summer of 2011, a direction began to reveal itself.
"We started noticing that some of the best moments were the candid things, the outtakes, and thought, 'What if we started recording ourselves making the record?'" Nissan remembers. "A pivotal point was where we could use the sound of us just talking as the raw material. We started coming up with scenes and thinking of it as a movie; TV shows and movies have themes. That's how we started working music into it."
The "themes" themselves are scattered throughout Showers, interpretations of a core keyboard melody. A few are shockingly accessible: Awash in drips and splashes, the "Opening Theme" is sweeping and almost Olympic; the "Love Theme" hemorrhages moans and bird calls, and hums with a spacey, regally serene glow. The "Dark Theme" is a compelling, ascending drone that threatens to evolve into a Tortoise B-side, while the "Title Theme" sounds as though it's passing through Godzilla's digestive system. One might think of these as anchors or signposts for the waves of weirdness swirling around them, the transitions morphing from a daydream to a nightmare.
"Life is 99 percent pure mundane nothing, but that's as important as any high point," Nissan says. With Showers, the band sought to locate "the musicality behind those sublime moments — there's probably an infinite number of forgotten moments that have real significance."
There is also a sense of the band subtly sending up its own reputation as a liquid-fixated concern, in the incessant gargling fits and a moment when someone complains that gargling "is all people want to hear anymore," an interpretation that Woodhall notes is "dead on."
Hosetown, according to Nissan, is "definitely influenced by that kind of adolescent American suburban attitude. We all share that. Hosetown is fratty and aggressive in a weird way. We developed it in a way that we're laughing at our own experiences and making something positive out of this negative attitude."
"For years, we've been working with liquid themes and piss," Woodhall says with a laugh. "There's a darkness, but also a celebration. We embrace it, but know it's completely insane."
The Showers package, which incorporates video and still photographs, will serve as the first release on Septic World International, the band's new label. When longtime Yellow Tears home base Hospital Productions was unable to release the album for scheduling reasons, "it totally made sense to take it into our own hands," Woodhall says. In a way, the move is a natural progression for three tight bros on the verge of their 10th anniversary as a band.
Yellow Tears formed on Long Island in summer 2005, when the three bonded over a mutual affection for Swans, Whitehouse, and Wolf Eyes; Ludovico and Nissan had been high school classmates, and hooked up with Woodhall via the local music scene.
"We initially conceived [Yellow Tears] to be as extreme as it is right now," Woodhall remembers. "We were interested in creating songs or pieces, not jams, small shifts that would be our songs."
While Woodhall and Nissan brought prior musical experience to the table, Ludovico, who worked as a roadie for a band Nissan played in, took on a more improvisatory role. "I'm like a band muse or mascot, the front man or the host, a comical aspect — I bring humor," Ludovico says. "It's kind of natural for me to engage a crowd."
The lengthy wait for Showers is owed in part to the members' careers — Ludovico is a special needs teacher's aide at a high school, Woodhall engineers web content for various companies, and Nissan performs music enrichment classes for young children — but the album is stronger for it, and a testament to the band's bond.
"I think one of the things that's kept us unique is our friendship and how that influences the music, that circle of trust," Nissan says. "We're always trying to do something that we're slightly uncomfortable doing, so trust is important. We've allowed our friendship to shape the music. It comes so much from hanging out."
"The subject matter stems from shared interests and conversations we have," Woodhall adds. "We come up with really wild ideas, and we have to have that trust and intuition that they will work out."
Yellow Tears play a record-release show for Golden Showers May Bring Flowers on Saturday, July 5, at the Red Light District.