Blood on the Wall, not actually bleeding on a wall
Blood on the Wall + Telepathe + Freddie Mas
October 16, 2005
I first read about the DUMBO Art Under the Bridge Festival in Arthur Nersesian’s thoroughly garbage novel Chinese Takeout. The book was a tiresome exercise in chic-dirtballism, the sort of account-of-a-struggling-artist that might get introverted high-school kids or bored suburban desk-jockeys going but isn’t about to offer anything new to anyone who’s ever lived in a city or been broke. But Nersesian made the festival itself read like something to behold: a weekend-long open-house for all the grubby artist dudes who live under the bridge to check out each other’s work just once a year. In the book, the artist-narrator guy gets to walk through, like, a whole warehouse without seeing anyone else, and of course the actual festival is nothing like that, at least not now. It’s jammed with older versions of the art kids I knew in college and older yuppie types looking for stuff to buy, and it’s crowded and networky. There seemed to be nearly as many furniture stores as studio open-houses, and money seemed to be floating through the air the entire time, from the signs showing where condos were going up to the business cards that the art people passed out. I didn’t go into one single studio; I didn’t think anything I would see would rival the view of the sunset under the Brooklyn bridge a block away from the festivities. But then, I’m not an art guy. I hung out almost exclusively with art students throughout college, but I couldn’t tell you the name of one vital artist working today. (Is Damien Hirst still a vital artist? I liked that shit he did with the shark.) I’m a music guy, and I was there for music.
Every city has a few spaces like the Soundbox, a cheap, dilapidated concrete loft that probably serves as an art gallery or studio most of the time but occasionally plays host to DIY noise-rock shows. But the difference between the Soundbox and, say, the run-down loft apartment in Baltimore where I saw Lightning Bolt a couple of years ago is that the Soundbox isn’t actually all that run-down or dilapidated. It had a soundman and big blue curtain behind the stage and a stage and everything, and it could probably serve as a club full-time if someone filled out a few forms at City Hall. Todd P., who I’m told puts on most of these shows in New York, put together a lineup of bands for the evening that any club would’ve been happy to get: Microphones and Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice on Friday, Free Blood and Love as Laughter on Saturday, Enon and the Rogers Sisters on Sunday.
But Sunday night’s show, the only one I attended, veered precipitously from one side of the slick/scuzzy divide. I didn’t stick around for Enon or the Rogers Sisters, but I’ve seen both bands before, and both times I’ve been bored by the jerky deadpan fashion-core coolness of it all. And I only saw a few minutes of opener Freddie Mas, some guy who screamed some stuff (only line I caught: “I don’t like policemen”) over chirpily unmusical low-tech electro in front of like ten people. I did, however, manage to see all of Telepathe, a new-agey experimental quartet who managed to encapsulate everything I’ve disliked about new-agey experimental New York bands since the first time I heard Beaches and Canyons. Telepathe plays formlessly woozy song-things built completely around ringing guitar sounds and aimlessly clicky drums, sometimes played over prerecorded throbby dub beats, the two timid singers sounding like they’re sound-checking even when they’re performing. The band’s show was so insular and fuzzy and amelodic and alienating that I was actually tempted to put my head in my lap and fall asleep. I don’t have Riff Raff‘s tolerance for sound-for-sound’s-sake, and I was not down. Their fifteen-minute set was too long.
So thank god for Blood on the Wall, a band that somehow manages to play around with Brooklyn scuzz-rock signifiers without forgetting to write actual songs. The band’s new album, Awesomer, brings fuzz and feedback and deadpan Kim Gordon vocals, but it also brings riffs and hooks and melodies and occasional heart-stoppingly gorgeous moments like “I’d Like to Take You Out Tonight,” a blissfully stoned love-murmur buried in reverb and starry-eyed wonder. Awesomer makes it pretty clear that Goo is Blood on the Wall’s favorite Sonic Youth album, but maybe I’m just saying that because it’s mine.
The band didn’t play “I’d Like to Take You Out Tonight” last night, but it never lost its sense of spazzily languid melody. They use ugly noise as a means to an end, a trick to make their songs better, not an end in itself. And so when Brad Shanks screwed up his face and let loose his gibbering, high-pitched tantrum-rasp, he was doing it in the context of songs strong enough to contain the ugliness and maybe sometimes turn it into prettiness. The band itself isn’t pretty: Brad Shanks looks like Philip Seymour Hoffman in Punch-Drunk Love but fatter, Courtney Shanks (sister, not wife) looks like Sissy Spacek in Carrie but fatter, and drummer Miggy Littleton doesn’t look like any fat people in movies but is losing his hair. The band made for a striking visual contrast with Telepathe, whose four members are all good-looking. There’s nothing particularly fashionably artsy about Blood on the Wall’s brand of scuzz; they’re just three people using ugly sounds to make pretty sounds. And if that isn’t the point of noise-rock, it probably should be.
Voice review: Brandon Stosuy on Blood on the Wall’s Awesomer