Next Big Things Stumble Into Brooklyn Noise-Rock Show
That's 120 Days' album cover. There are 120 slashes there, and you can count them if you want.
120 Days + Dysrhythmia + WZT Hearts
October 24, 2006
Walking into the musty backroom at the Williamsburg bar Union Pool last night, it was immediately obvious who was in 120 Days and who wasn't; the guys in the band were the ones with the elegantly straight hair and the immaculate wardrobes and the dazed look in their eyes. Supposedly huge in their native Norway, 120 Days are just one of a damn near endless string of next big things from overseas that'll be invading the city next week during CMJ. They're signed to Vice Records, and the label is already pimping them hard; they're in town for about a week, and they're playing something like nine shows: basements, industry parties, weird cobbled-together bills. And so that's how they ended up on one of Todd P's Brooklyn noise-rock bills last night, sharing a stage with Philadelphia math-metal noise-blurters Dysrhythmia and Baltimore wall-of-squall electronic-improv types WZT Hearts. Vice Records curated the night's lineup, but it was still pretty much alien territory for the Norwegians. The songs on 120 Days' new self-titled debut are totally allergic to restraint; they're built for huge outdoor festivals, and they push outward and unfold upward, aiming for cheap seats. And here they were playing a room that could comfortably hold maybe 150 people ("a tiny Bowery Ballroom or a big Pete's Candy Store," Todd called it), crowding the ornate old stage with their vintage synths and their weird boxes with lots of knobs. So those songs didn't have the space to roll around and echo the way they should, but they still sounded pretty great. The songs are long, and they flesh out their arena-rock reach with twinkling New Order guitars and oscillating Moroder synth blips. The band has managed to incorporate electronics into their show pretty seamlessly; they play guitars and drums sometimes, but they're a lot more reliant on drum-machines and sequencers. The singer uses a regular mic to holler his vaguely inspirational gibberish, but he keeps a vocoder right next to it. And I'm not even sure he sings words into that vocoder; he uses it mostly for texture. And the bass anchors everything and keeps all the swirling from spinning off into diffusion. The band can get a bit boring when they reach for Primal Scream's epic scuzz, but when they're pillaging krautrock for its untapped stadium possibilities, they're on to something.
It's weirdly appropriate that that 120 Days played right after Dysrhythmia, since 120 Days' whole thing is, um, rhythmia. Their songs mine repetition for all it's worth, stretching their languid beats out further and further into space until they become mantras. Dysrhythmia, on the other hand, falls all over itself lurching in every direction at once, interrupting itself every few seconds and spazzing off into some other new counterintuitive time-signature. So the two bands had a sort of interesting point-counterpoint going; they felt like each other's textural opposites. Dysrhythmia sounds pretty much exactly like what you'd expect given the name and the Relapse affiliation: uber-jittery instrumental jazz-metal with screechy siren-riffs and berserk time-changes. The two guys up front do a lot of headbanging and make a lot of goofy facial expressions, and they're fun to watch. The bassist and guitarist trade off leads and sometimes sound like they're playing two completely different songs. A few years ago, when the Oxes and the Fucking Champs and a million other bands were doing this stuff, I couldn't stand it. These days, it feels like a nice change of pace. I liked them best when they locked into actual grooves for a second or two, but they didn't do that often. Their one long, extended groove was sort of an accident, apparently: the drummer locked into a repeating pattern that must've been in like a 25-14 time-signature or something while the bass and guitar slowly dropped out. For a few minutes, I didn't realize anything was amiss; I just thought it was the extended weird-drum part of the song. But no: the guitarist eventually got on the mic and apologized for the equipment fuckup, promising that something would happen soon. A couple of minutes later: "All right, folk, that's it. Sorry." Funny: it was my favorite part of the set.
WZT Hearts' main laptop guy is Jason Urick, a friend of mine from Baltimore who ran an indie record store until recently. I saw them open a whole lot of shows back in Baltimore, and I always made a point of telling Jason how I couldn't stand them. But when I saw them open for Dan Higgs at another Todd P show earlier this year, they'd integrated a few rhythmic dynamics into their repulsively ugly drone-assault thing, and I liked little pieces of it. I'm happy to report that they've kept pushing toward something that could actually be described as music; last night's WZT Hearts show was the first one I've ever actively enjoyed. They started out with pretty but ominous humming atmospherics with little shards of guitar, and they kept building it and building it until some quiet but urgent drums kicked in; the whole thing managed to be simultaneously trancey and visceral. After a while, the drone inevitably broke and white noise came flooding in to fill the vaccuum, but they slowly layered fluttering beeps over the scrapes and squeals, bringing pretty to their ugly and eventually fading into something resembling jagged but shimmery tribal disco. They're going for Boredoms, of course, but the surprise is that they're actually not that far off, though it would be nice if they gave us something to look at other than Jason nonchalantly sipping a beer and tapping a few keys on his laptop.