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A Cellarfull Of Noise: A Racket Of A Blog With Footnotes, By Stevie Chick
Stevie Chick , October 6th, 2008 16:21

If ever some uninitiated friend happens to cock a quizzical ear to whatever skronkular din is, at that particular moment, bleeding from my speakers or my earphones (1), and questions just why exactly I would subject my ears to such a barrage, I always wish for the boneheaded courage to answer with the same words exploitation auteur Russ Meyer offered, when questioned about his fascination with voluptuous mammaries: “Why? Because it makes the dick hard!” By which I don’t mean that feedback and drone cause my nethers to necessarily tumesce (2); rather that, for me, Noise is very much a visceral, sensual experience: that, while the conceptual and intellectual audacity of said artist might pique my interest, I am pouring such corrosive substances into my earhole primarily for the thrill such a sonic riot will deliver. (3) (4)

In short, my love of ‘Noise’ in rock and pop (5) stems from a desire to be assaulted by a violently beautiful array of sound; a record rack bulging with the entire discography of The Posies asserts that I love a well-crafted tune as much as the average Radio 2 listener, but I’m always willing to squander whatever remains of my hearing upon artists who manhandle, lampoon, annihilate or abandon traditional song-structure by way of blasts of the kind of noise you only hear when a musician is manipulating their instrument in an improper manner.

‘Noise’ records are brilliantly surreal, abstract experiences. ‘Noise’ records are like rollercoaster rides, stealing your breath with every unexpected twist and swooping nosedive. ‘Noise’ records are like horror movies, alive with tension and suspense, and taking the listener outside the furthest reaches of their comfort zone. ‘Noise’ records are like Jackson Pollock paintings, only the listener is the canvas, pelted by random neon arcs of distortion, and interference, and a universe of other-worldly sounds for which there are, as yet, no truly satisfying adjectives.

Most of all, ‘Noise’ records require the suspension of a certain kind of disbelief, banishing any notions of emperors proudly promenading in suspiciously translucent new clothes in favour of embracing whatever sonic splatter can be encompassed within the dimensions of a vinyl record (6), CD or mp3, on its own terms, and enjoying whatever aural jollies abound.

Original Silence’s second album, The Second Original Silence, is, without the slightest marmalade shred of doubt, a ‘Noise’ record. We know this not least because Original Silence count among their number Thurston Moore (7) and Jim O’Rourke (8), along with sulphur-lunged saxophonist Mats Gustaffson (9) and seasoned avant Terrie Ex (10). That the album is released on Smalltown Supersound – also sometime home to Sunburned Hand Of The Man, Tussle and Martin Horntveth – further suggests a free, out time for adventurous ears.

And The Second Original Silence is a whole heap of fun. It opens with five or so minutes of corrugated No Wave funk, bass and drums inking an elliptical groove that’s generously seasoned with laptop squiggle and blushing guitar squall, and fiercely freefall saxophone bleats that wind ever tighter, until the whole jam collapses into diamond shards, giving way to a luminous improvised tone poem of haywire feedback and electro scree that evokes the spaceship from Close Encounters slowly descending upon the Earth, radiating pulsewaves of Peace and Love. (11) Track two opens with dayglo synth swoops and siren-call, before shifting scene to a locomotive hurtling at excruciating slow-pace along a tunnel that’s a tad too tight for comfort, bass and drums rolling along like a big ball of debris just spherical enough to remain propelled, but not enough to do so with any grace. The theme here is FRICTION (12), with computer spew, ax-grind and sax-spittle all firing off like sparks at vicious angles, phosphorous-bright lightning crackle in the cramp. THEN – the rhythm shake loose their shackles, begin racing at full pelt. They have escaped! But THEN – no, they are lost, slowly imploding as all instruments around them evince the chaos of destruction, by sounding like they are broken. All of a sudden, as the symphonic melee builds to a peak, I wish I was stood in the stark Mojave night, this album playing through mega-ultra-super-watt speakers and parting the clouds like Moses did those waves…

…I mean, I could go on. Original Science do, that second track (13) moving through a further ten minutes of Ayler-esque blare, spine-wrecking and feral funk-punk, full-spectrum analog wail and multi-tonal amp abuse, and there’s another two tracks besides. But a film reviewer would never reveal the shock twist ending of a horror flick, (14) so I’ll leave the rest of The Second Original Science’s wonderful surprises for you to discover. Which you should.

Smalltown Supersound are also the home of Nissennenmondai, an all girl trio from Tokyo whose instrumental music is terribly easy for lazy rock crits to pigeonhole and contextualise, given that sample track titles off their latest album, Tori/Neji, include ‘Sonic Youth’, ‘The Pop Group’ and ‘This Heat’. Their music is a brilliant new contortion of No Wave, their sound unique in the mesmeric, industrial ambience afforded by their reverb -heavy production. On Tori/Neji, guitars sound like guitars, sure, but guitars played at full-treble, through brittle speakers, down the other end of a long tunnel, so the chord-shocks, emboldened by echo, cause abrasions, and take on almost-physical form. If No Wave is an essentially urban strain of noise (15), then Nissennenmondai (wordlessly) sing the song of the machines that thanklessly power the Metropolis: grease-flecked gears, oily chains clanking, blemished and burnished metal grinding against itself, and sending plumes of sparkling toxicity into the sky. They swap between blankly motorik matras, and brooding passages of fractured funk, sounding like mutant slugs aping glitchmusic with instruments fashioned from stuff they found in the sewage tunnels. Both sound like fine music to these smog-clogged ears.

Ethan Miller told me recently (16) that his Comets On Fire existed to take those cataclysmic crescendos that truly great rock’n’roll bands happen upon when the angels are on their side, and maintain that peak level of full-chaos rock transcendence for the length of a song, side or show (17). I mention this, because the full-blooded sturm-und-drang of the self-titled EP from Long Beach noise-a-delicists Crystal Antlers can’t help but bring to mind Comets On Fire’s ethos. Hell, I might as well come out and say it: Crystal Antlers sound like Comets On Fire. How much? Like, a heckuvalot (18). They dig the whole yell-thru-an-echoplex thang which, to be fair, wasn’t exactly invented by Comets, but listen to Jonny Bell’s expertly-contorted howl on the frenetic ‘Vexation’ and tell me Bell doesn’t have a well-worn vinyl of Field Music From The Sun lurking in his cupboard somewhere. The EP’s closing jam, ‘Parting Song For The Torn Sky’ (19), even cops the same wonderful ‘Dying Swan’ exeunt as ‘Blue Tomb’ (20), the mordant riff-out that ended Comets’ Blue Cathedral LP (it cops it marvellously well, I should add).

It’s at this point in the review that I begin to wonder whether or not I’m ragging on Crystal Antlers a little too hard. After all, I am here to praise them, not bury them. Perhaps Crystal Antlers are to Comets On Fire what Blue Cheer were to Cream, earnest descendants who, in their lusty haste to ape their antecedents’ steez, end up discovering a noise all their own. Certainly, their hall-of-mirrors guitars, seething Hammond organ and morphic vocals well suit the heavier-than-brown-acid riffs, and the aforementioned ‘Parting Song For The Torn Sky’ proves they can orchestrate their arcane rave-ups to impressive dramatic heights. Their full-length should prove their mettle.

Crystal Antlers are signed to Touch & Go, as are Alabama’s All The Saints, whose faintly-macabre psychedelia is less showily pyrotechnic than Crystal Antlers’, but still proves impressive. Their debut album, Fires On Corridor X (21), is a fantastically moody thing, its minor chord dirges building into brilliantly noisy temper tantrums, simple riffs opening as aching twinges and twangs, bulking up over minutes into hulking behemoths of slouched shoulder and heavy eyelid. These riffs eschew weight-training and protein shakes in favour of a grand canyon of reverb, and enough FX pedals to turn Belle & Sebastian into Black Sabbath. And without exactly sounding like him, frontman Matt Lambert recalls Kurt Cobain’s un-bullshit-able croak, painfully honest, perhaps to a fault.

Fires On Corridor X might not deliver the exquisite bruise to your inner kinky that Julian Cope so famously promised on Comets On Fire’s behalf some years ago; skronkadelic wigouts aren’t their forte, and the album’s contents are unlikely to send your cat haring madly about the house, so affronted by these countless assaults on their super-sensitive ears (22). Instead, All The Saints have a dreamy lightness of touch which recalls a stoner-rock Galaxie 500 (23), their sparse instrumentation emboldened by a cathedral’s worth of sonic space. The album’s epic centrepiece, the mesmeric ‘Hornett’, is a case in point, gliding with ethereal grace but still, at essence, potent menace. After such a luscious lull, the crash-velocity slide-guitars that scour and scar its final seconds deliver a denouement that could shake mountains.

Footnotes:

  1. And it’s easily as likely to be some abundantly drippy R’n’B, usually prompting a similarly quizzical reaction
  2. My nipples have, however, on occasion been known to harden upon sampling some particularly wicked noise
  3. Yes, I am dumb. But so were The Ramones
  4. I am not, however, comparing myself favourably to The Ramones, o tetchy comments writers
  5. A broad church, stretching from the knitting-needle-sharp blasts of feedback that punctuate the funk breakdowns of Betty Harris’s Old Skool New Orleans belter ‘Break In The Road’, to the tar-stained walls of marshmallow roar that make up ‘Sister Ray’, to the brain-tickling scree-pocalypse that is the closing coda to Flaming Lips’ ‘Turn It On’, to the eardrum-puncturing blasts of black noise hurtling throughout the nosebleed-jungle of DJ Scud & Nomex’s ‘Total Destruction’…
  6. (lathe-cut, natch)
  7. Sonic Youth, Mirror/Dash, Ecstatic Peace honcho
  8. ex-Sonic Youth, ex-Gastr Del Sol, roving solo tunesmith/noisenik
  9. The Thing, Diskaholics Anonymous Trio, plus occasional Sonic Youth collabs
  10. phenomenal Dutch avant-pinks The Ex, plus occasional Sonic Youth collabs
  11. This piece is called ‘Argument Left Hanging – Rubber Cement’ and, as the album’s shortest track (7:35), presumably their radio-friendly breakthrough track
  12. Also title to a rather marvy track off Marquee Moon
  13. ‘A Sweeping Parade Of Optimism – Blood Streak’
  14. SPOILER The Blair Witch Project ends with a man being filmed while urinating up a wall SPOILER
  15. It is
  16. http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2008/may/02/popandrock2
  17. A feat they very often achieved: go check the albums or, better still, the live bootlegs
  18. Do you remember, back in those grungey days of 1993, when you first heard Stone Temple Pilots’ ‘Plush’, and mistook it for Pearl Jam? And how, upon discovering it was the work of another, obviously not-so-inspired band, you ended up liking it nevertheless, because it was taking Pearl Jam too long to make that second album and, as Stephen Stills and The Isleys both sang, when you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with? Was that just me? What I’m trying to say is… Uh… Crystal Antlers are several blissful universes better than STP
  19. Crystal Antlers are dead into Comets-style B-Movie sci-fi song titles
  20. It even uses the same chords, and a similar melody
  21. Which seemingly includes two odes to thriving cities of Northern England, ‘Sheffield’ and ‘Leeds'
  22. My own cat, the esteemed Mr Chang, would like to herewith invite the members of Original Science to kindly “go fuck themselves”, for all the upset their new album has caused him this afternoon
  23. Again with the reverb

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