, August 5th, 2011 13:07
Earlier this year, I went to New York to interview Cold Cave's Wesley Eisold. Although Eisold is the key songwriter on Cold Cave's divisive, dense Cherish The Light Years, much of the four days in Manhattan was spend with him and his friend and collaborator, Prurient / Hospital Productions Dominick Fernow. The two men dress similarly - black leather jackets, very stylish shit-kicking boots - share a common dislike of Brooklyn, refuse to suffer fools gladly and have a sharp, dry, sense of humour. Their relationship is, to these ears, enlightening to an appreciation of Fernow's latest and most accessible (though of course the term is relative) album, Bermuda Drain. It is a meeting of minds and aesthetic, but manifested in two very different pieces.
Like Cherish The Light Years, Bermuda Drain is an album that deals in compressed, overbearing, aggressive sound. It also makes a companion with the third Cold Cave album in its unsentimental romance and degraded sensuality. It's that sense of staring, shiny eyed and with an altered mind, into the bright lights of a part of the city where they illuminate only halos of smog and dust. Fernow has apparently recommended that this is a record influenced by minimal techno that should be appreciated thus: “Listen on headphones at night while driving through tunnels in Europe".
It's not just in cattle prod snares and robust synths that Cold Cave have gone more intense, and Prurient arguably more polished, whatever that means. If Eisold's aim with Cold Cave has in part been to distance himself from his hardcore roots, garnering an army of online haters in the process, so has Fernow antagonised the noise brigade. Bermuda Drain is, from the off, a massive step forward for Prurient. Opener 'Many Jewels Surround The Crown' might open with a scream and cauterising scree of noise, but it doesn't continue that way. Just as Cold Cave have steered away from contemporary cold wave by eschewing the wheedling Kenneth Williams synths of the genre, so does Fernow move far beyond the bizarre orthodoxies of noise. 'Many Jewels...' is a perfect intro, a sci-fi narrative for lyricism, opulent, cinematic synthesisers. Follower 'A Meal Can Be Made' has barked vocals that hark back to Fernow's love of extreme metal, but musically this is pure cadmium-heavy synth.
The title track, by contrast, again has a narrative, helicopter sounds overhead, ambient washes of melody, the sensibility of Coil, before it breaks into the pure aggression of 'Watch Silently'. The opening to 'Palm Tree Corpse' could be Popol Vuh hosting a Black Mass, but the track ends up with the power electronics, energy marauding onwards from the departed Pansonic. 'There Are Still Secrets' confesses via scream over Mauser beats, 'Let's Make A Slave' again has the glacial feel of disrupted techno (something in the water suggests Prurient's machine thunders along similar paths to Sandwell District or artists of the Perc label), muttered, cracked threats of bleak debauch.
The oppressive tonality of both Bermuda Drain and Cherish... suggests an interior dialogue decidedly un-at-ease. The claustrophobia feels inwardly directed, laden with doubt, searching deeper and deeper within for a hint of the light. Prurient and Cold Cave, though both dealing with eroticism in their elecctronica, do feel conflicted. Perhaps, given their religious upbringings, this is the sound of doubt? Indeed, this something that both Fernow and Eisold told me was a common theme in their work. As Fernow said, "I want art to raise questions but not provide answers. How does it make me feel? Why do I feel like that? Maybe I don't even like how I feel? It's supposed to be an exchange, and I feel that's lost on most things."
And an exchange is what Bermuda Drain is, the noise acting in perfect equilibrium with the synth-based, dystopian cinematics. Prurient are a serious project that, perhaps, you aren't supposed to take too seriously. Just as Wolf Eyes (whose gutteral textures are heard throughout Prurient's work, especially here on 'Watch Silently') introduce tracks live by saying things like "this song is about the Michigan spirit... it's called 'Killing Fucking Animals'") so there's something louche about Prurient. This is a project, after all, whose last album was called Cocaine Death. It's this ambiguity - do you take the scream as exorcism, expression, or both? - that makes Bermuda Drain such a rewarding listen.
"Noise" is a flawed concept, entirely subjective. Far better is contrast, the juxtaposition of sonics, texture and mood to create a palette that, while dark, can still paint an evocative picture, and give room to wallow in emotional dregs. This is what Fernow has achieved on Bermuda Drain. There is humour in the void. Back to New York, March 2011. Speaking about his close, unique friendship with Fernow, Wesley Eisold said, with an urbane chuckle, "On Valentine's Day Dominick and I found ourselves sat in a shitty bar looking at pictures of electric chairs for an hour." Fernow instantly replied: "then we realised this is why we're alone."