The Best Noise Music in April: The Devil and Shredded Nerve
[Ed. Note: In Please Enjoy Responsibly, columnist Raymond Cummings tracks down the best noise music of the month, while keeping an eye out for the best of recent months and saluting noise triumphs of yesteryear.]
No more bullshit, no more half-stepping: Spring has sprung. People are dressing horribly and everyone queues up for milkshakes. Cruising the strip is suddenly hip again. Festival season dominates. Life feels equally full of doom and possibility; there's a lot of laughter, idle talk.
Perhaps you'd appreciate a few recommendations as to what to blast -- treble up, windows down -- while cruising the strip or hiding in your apartment. Yes, we thought you might.
INTO THE WAAAAAAYBACK MACHINE: PETE SWANSON
There was a time, early on in the reign of the Yellow Swans, when the duo's output was difficult to obtain. Releases arrived in tiny editions, housed in slipcovers and floppy-disc cases, with hand-illustrated, photocopied artwork. One might be fortunate enough to score product at shows, through distros, or via Collective Jyrk, the band's now-defunct imprint. There wasn't really a "Yellow Swans signature sound," per se, at that point -- even if there had been the point would've been moot, given the mind-bending number of collaborations Pete Swanson and Gabriel Mindel Saloman engaged in -- and while the music was honed to some extent, it emerged raw, unpredictable, and gloriously varied. The cross-pollinated majesty of Bring the Neon War Home, the first Live During War Crimes entry, and Man With Potential lay far, far off in the future, over a horizon nobody was watching yet.
Gnarly Shocks (Collective Jyrk, 2003), among Swanson's first solo forays, stands apart from the limited-run forest of this period, in large part because it's so fucking shrill. By its very definition, noise is penetrating, polarizing, and as immobilizing as a dog's musky scent; that much is true regardless of the volume at which it is experienced. Swanson is certainly cognizant of this, but on Gnarly Shocks his approach is a minimalist one with what seems to be a limited palette of sounds, most of which are tuned at a high, excruciating frequency that might seem more appropriate to the equipment in an ear doctor's office, a professional dog whistle, or those effects LPs some gearheads buy to pilot expensive stereo systems. Which is to say that if one hasn't been exposed to tones of this nature - if, say, it has never been necessary for a dentist to drill one of your teeth en route to filling a cavity -- then the initial listen to Gnarly Shocks might be an uncomfortable one.
It's only over time that immunization to the tea-kettle whinnies occurs, and this CDr's other maneuvers are revealed: the exquisite micro-tonal soldering jags that suggest Etch-A-Sketch lines that vanish as soon as they appear, razor-blade carvings through expertly concentrated squirts of distortion, thin fields of static brought into focus or dialed back from quarter-moment to quarter-moment in order to serve the momentum. The dominant "shock" aspect of these seven cuts can obscure how achingly stage-managed and precise every move made here is; the experience is a like hearing a fastidious shortwave radio enthusiast masterfully manipulating his set, eking out an anti-symphony of sorts.
And finally, a disclaimer: I don't often have cause to literally evoke the name of this column, but here I'm going to do so, emphatically: really, seriously, please enjoy Gnarly Shocks responsibly, because its effect linger with you. In revisiting it on laptop speakers without headphones over the past few weeks, and several times on the day of this writing, my ears feel really, really weird and tingly, and I've necessarily staggered my listens by stepping away from the keyboard and doing other things: making meals, reading the New Yorker, taking walks outside, etc. Indulge, yes -- if you can get hold of a copy of this, and I hope you can - but be careful.
NOISE-RAP MIXTAPE OF THE MONTH: THE DEVIL
A tip of the hat to the esteemed Nathan Golub, who introduced me to this mystery crew. Here at Please Enjoy Responsibly, hip-hop of all varieties is constantly on the menu, be it knuckleheaded thug shit, soulquarian uplift, absurdist art rap, or whatever sub-genre Kanye West slots into this week. But to be perfectly honest, I'm not necessarily rolling with The Devil for the tooled-up rhyme schemes or the hectic, swarming beats -- not to shortchange or belittle them or anything, but they're not the main attraction.
When Death Grips burst onto the scene a few years back, much of the talk centered on how the trio's sound consisted in large part of samples stolen from YouTube and media et al., smelted and twisted into unrecognizable new shapes. Anyone who's spent any time with Government Plates or The Money Store can confirm how awesome the results often are. But there's something equally thrilling about the use of unmolested samples, strung together to tell a story or set a mood. Golden Age-era rap was all about this, and countless experimental groups and artists have exploited the concept over the last couple decade.
To be honest, that's what thrills me about The Devil's Violence mixtape (One Thousand Thieves): that willingness to bury the listener in breathless bursts of context (from news reports, movies, television, Bible readings, Johnny Cash, random FM radio stations) that attempt to justify the explicit content herein, and, maybe more daring, the willingness to stop a song cold, in mid-stride, to shovel even more context in -- as if the songs are so bursting at the seams with societal angst that there's ultimately no alternative but to play the tradgi-commercial break card, now and again. It makes for a dark, foreboding listen that stays with you. I sort of wish they'd drop the rap all together but keep the production and pile on an abundance of samples until the whole thing collapses under its own dystopian weight, but, you know, I'll take what I can get.