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[Ed. Note: In Please Enjoy Responsibly, columnist Raymond Cummings tracks down the best noise music of the past month, while keeping an eye out for the best of recent months and saluting noise triumphs of yesteryear.]
The number of tracks and albums I’ve treated in this space has certainly fluctuated over the past year, but for December, I’m boiling things down to five releases.
Why? A couple reasons.
First, we’re already in the thick of the end-of-annum glut of lists, where a handful of under-appreciated musical gems get their moment in the sun but mostly it becomes newly apparent that, in the aggregate, music critics’ collective taste sucks.
Second, by now you’ve got way better things to do — holiday shopping, winterizing home/car, burning Ikea furniture for heat — than to power through 10 or 12 noise LPs online. No, it’s cool. I know you’re not vibing to Whitehouse or whatever over dinner; from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, that shit is straight tabled in favor of the Andrea Bocelli Christmas album.
Third, five is the number of fingers most of us have on each hand, and each hand has a glove on it. A few freakishly warm days aside, this has been a cold, blustery month, and it’s bound to get worse before it gets better.
So, this month: the bare essentials to see you through snowstorms and traffic jams and long department store lines and leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Because does anybody even like turkey?
Even a little bit?
The Northern Lights That Bruise The Sky: Horse Thief
New Mexico’s Horse Thief — the work of one A. Augustine, or Dan K., who the hell even knows — continues the state’s recent hot streak of updraft, flamethrower noise with the Ethnic/Cleansing cassette (Sick Sick Sick Distro). Talk of gear or effects feels almost facile in the face of two sides of pitted, deeper-than-the-Mariana-Trench drone that’s nothing less than volcanic, elemental. Set this one blazing brightly in a dark corner of your home while you work on a PC on the other side; its crossed-out, gnomic ripples will take over. To play it at high volume in the same room is to be completely consumed by it. The mix feels muddy, but intentionally and lovingly so.
On “Destroy/Environment,” lowing ululations are buried beneath untold layers of groaning ash, with spurts of magma erupting through at intervals. A shattering minimalism reigns on “Destroy/Spiritualism (pt 1)”: an indistinct synthesizer chord hum beset, occasionally, by bracing sonic extremes; “Destroy/Spiritualism (pt 2),” meanwhile, presents a severely strained type of electronic noise-pop, until the distortion nibbling at its fringes lunges in for bigger bites. Should you opt to purchase the physical tape — and, MP3 or cassette, you should undoubtedly cop what is among the dying year’s strongest musical statements — be prepared for a download code and, um, clumps of natural hair — horse hair, possibly? I’m no equestrian, so search me, but if anybody knows for sure, I’d be interested in confirmation.
Simulated Retching: Anne-F Jacques
What’s most thrilling about Some Asperities (Zeromoon), perhaps beyond its lack of aspiration vis-à-vis music, is its utilitarian nature, the suspicion in listening that some of its sonic matter might have been drawn from any number of sources — the dialing of a rotary telephone, skis cleaving snow piles, water disappearing down a drain, a sucked straw at the bottom of a fast-food cup — or none of those things.
Montreal’s Anne-F Jacques uses loops to arrive at a sort of synthetic, magical art. Witness how the samples on “No Load” — is that the crackle of a cassette? the whirr of a clothes dryer? — are manipulated to simulate the heave of lungs, then the rasp of bronchitis. Dig the way the appropriately titled “Continuous Sliding” descends from hypnotic rhythms into fractal abstraction over 24 minutes.
But “Stiction” may represent the ultimate act of alchemy here. It opens with a recipe for the patience-testing — a montage of what might be unoiled hinge creaks and discomfiting exhalations that’s enough to have one’s fingernails cutting into one’s palms. Over five minutes, though, little by little, Jacques sands the rough edges away until we’re left with something tolerably compelling.
Distended Half-Consciousness: Jailblazer
Every now and again, your correspondent is prone to wax nostalgic for the peekaboo hyper-keyboard bounce of the late, lamented Oh Astro — mostly when I stumble upon some new recording born of a similar spirit. Jailblazer’s Rasheed (Sympathy Limited) loiters in a similar ballpark. The work of Minneapolis’s Justin Meyers, who you may remember fondly from Glass Organ and Panther Skull, Rasheed spends an electrifying half-hour engaging the listener in a spirited game of hide-and-go-seek. The best way to think about this might be to imagine a dimension or alternate reality full of intensely pulsating, rainbow-colored energy — The Area of Madness from Shade, the Changing Man, perhaps. You are walking down a long, dark hallway, with closed doors on either side, and as you proceed, doors fly open, exposing you to this energy momentarily before slamming closed. That’s Rasheed in a nutshell, with the caveat that each peek treats Meyers’s irradiated tonalities from a different angle: vivid keyboard chords that seesaw or jackhammer or shimmer or stagger, merry hiccups piling up mesmerizingly.
Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment: Styrofoam Sanchez
It isn’t quite enough to say that Oakland’s Styrofoam Sanchez trades in primo Darth Vader helmet mouth-breathe, because one gets the impression that said helmet is full of millipedes, salamanders, and scorpions. Underwater Empire (Rat Skin) is an epically ugly affair: insinuatingly demonic vocals upchucking and devouring one another, trowels of staticky spackle, bursts of feedback and signal rot, sine waves disintegrating before they can even crash anywhere, sputtered streaks of noise. The cruel crumbling of “Human” gives way to the forebodingly structured “Empire,” all stippled, right-angled slither and hiss. In slightly different ways, “Coral Pathogen” and “Calling the Eye” suggest a dark wizard alone and trembling in a nightclubbing throng, trying and failing to transmogrify himself into a pterodactyl to the throb of a polluted house beat. Then closer “Last Molecule” gives itself over to a long, creepy inhale/exhale of low-life ambient seethe, in the vein of Sightings’ “Public Remains.”
Horror Done Almost Right: Breathing Problem
There was a stretch of time not long ago when Prurient’s Dom Fernow was issuing non-Prurient cassettes with serial-killer themes, folding true-crime story samples into blistering beds of noise. These tapes were supremely uncomfortable to hear, and I could never be sure if the intent was to celebrate murderers, to throw a damning spotlight on their crimes, or something else. Some parts of The Keyhole (self-released) are like this, particularly the squirm-inducing “True Crime, True Predator.” When Austin’s Breathing Problem makes a point of generalizing discontent with miscellany, the result is decidedly less icky, and exceedingly awesome: the distended, crumpling, “Entropy,” the title track’s psychopathic dungeon murk, the telescoping nightmare that is “Prowler (Part 2).” One of my biggest issues with dance music — and some rock music — is that too often vocals are added where they aren’t even remotely necessary; they represent a distraction. This is The Keyhole‘s biggest flaw. “Sun,” the final and second longest cut, is a prime example. These 10 gentle minutes of quavering tones and what sound like nighttime nature samples that alternately expand and contract would be pure bliss — without accompanying, intoning voices that seem to connect to track titles and thematic innuendos throughout The Keyhole. My country for an instrumental version!