The Best Noise Music of March: John Wiese, Masturbatory Dysfunction, and More


The world, at long last, is coming alive again: color flooding trees and shrubs, power-walkers crowding avenues, convertibles easing out of storage, sinuses exploding into flame. It’s spring, and dreary, smudged music doesn’t make sense anymore; it’s time to get loud, and time to get stupid with last month’s noise picks.


Let’s start with a disclaimer: I’m not a John Wiese completist by any stretch of the imagination. Dipping my toe in his voluminous catalog over the years, though, I’ve come away with a handful of favorites: Soft Punk, Circle Snare, Arrhythmia Wave Burst and Panner Crash, the Teenage Hallucinations compilation, and a collaboration or two with C. Spencer Yeh, etc. Deviate From Balance may now be added to that hallowed shortlist. It’s kind of all over the place, in a fun way — a divine rummage sale of styles and twists, an astonishing slice of escapism that’s most effective if you surf his waves without thinking too hard about how he made the album. Opener “Wind Changed Direction” casts forth undulating synth drones, gently peppering them with a diverse range of samples — melted voices, bells, squeaking hinges, et al. — to disorient and displace the listener in time. Then it’s off to the interstitial races: the spine-tingling, too-moody blues of “356 S. Mission Rd,” the sci-fi super-fricassee of “Superstitious,” the Zorn-ian slither and zap of “Solitaire,” and “Memaloose Walkman,” apparently recorded (partially) at a firing range. “Dramatic Accessories,” a favorite, seems to consist entirely of some unfathomable beastie unspooling and gobbling cassette tapes in the backseat of a running automobile parked in a garage where a band is adamantly resisting the urge to really rehearse. It’s just bizarre, uncomfortable, and it stretches for ten wonderfully awkward minutes.

WIDESCREEN WILDOUTS: Tape Monster/Gas Station of Love

Look, I’m as much a sucker for nuanced experimentation as anybody. Every now and again, the mood for especially crazy/weird noise strikes, and hard. So Split — featuring Allentown, Pennsylvania’s Tape Monster and Texas’s Gas Station of Love — pushed all the right buttons for me this month. The Tape Monster half brought to mind Load Records–era Prurient, i.e., a confluence of laser-focused tones both unrelentingly raw and piercingly linear. So you’ll want to get the dog out of the house when “Cyborg Squad” is on, even if “Dead Grass in the Graveyard” wavers between radio-dial twiddling and scree-twerk at half-speed. Thirteen-minute napalm jam “All the Trees Are Dead Too” is the no-doubt keeper, a jagged, distorted Inquisition so combustible and cramped that words can’t quite do it justice. Gas Station of Love, on the other hand, go in for a sort of sweeping, “fuck everything” electronic Dadaism that acts as a soothing counteractive (and might help your bleeding ears to heal after Tape Monster’s no-quarter-given onslaught). They also include a stupid punk-folk song named “Tranny Porn” that almost — almost — squanders the goodwill the rest of this release engenders.

HEAVY SHREDDING: Masturbatory Dysfunction

On “Positioning Is Everything” (Signora Ward Records), Masturbatory Dysfunction — a/k/a Seattle’s Felicia Gaggins — aims to restore harsh wall noise’s good name. The result is fourteen billowing, battering minutes of torque that steadily build in intensity. The impression this creates is that that you’re astride the bow of a ship, fearlessly staring down some fast-approaching barometric monstrosity like Ged in The Wizard of Earthsea or something. The experience of listening becomes an endurance test, a game of chicken: Who will crack first, you or that storm? There is, of course, a ton of music similar to this out in the world already, most of it so prohibitively impenetrable as to be impersonal, or worse, invisible. The slashing, rivulet-strewn texture of “Positioning Is Everything” sets it apart, as though a swarm of psychotic leviathans were convulsing just off the starboard bow. Bonus: The longer and louder this song grows, the more incisively microscopic it becomes — every sonic blister larger and uglier than life, every strand of distortion sharper, deadlier.

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