Wolf Eyes

Dreams In Splattered Lines

Drawing on DIY instruments and graphic scores created during a residence at the New York Public Library, Nate Young and Johnny Olson are keeping the spirit of Fluxus alive and well

There is something perversely post-Dada to the world we live in, from the Fluxus-esque, ephemeral intermedia concoctions that haunt TikTok to the irony of memes that function as contemporary transpositions of the Situationist détournement. As these ideas gradually permeated the collective consciousness, certain scenes reacted by shutting down any discourse outside its immediate sonic content. In particular, noise musics seem to embrace a reductive and conservative perception of themselves, with artists (and critics) often accentuating their transgressive side and disregarding the capacity for generating new sensations. It’s a perplexing development, considering how the aesthetics of harsh noise wall musicians such as Romain Perrot aka Vomir depend entirely on extramusical contexts, while groups like Nate Young and John Olson’s Wolf Eyes live between worlds, continually balancing metafictional themes with sublime musical results.

Dreams In Splattered Lines is the duo’s most explicit work in this sense and a further development of ideas presented on the collaborative Difficult Messages released earlier this year. The album’s material was inspired by and built on top of a series of performances, visual artworks, home-made instruments, and events within a methodological framework that closely resembles the practices of 1960s Surrealists. Even if the album format by definition provides a narrow view, obscuring the process that led to the music, each of the record’s thirteen cuts shows glimpses of the concepts behind them embedded in an beguiling collage of sounds and narratives.

Take the opening ‘Car Wash Two w/ Short Hands’, for example. Distorted voices, cassette hiss, and flickers of disintegrating beats fade in and out of existence like an AM receiver shifting between frequencies. To then learn that the track was actually played on a car radio and recorded while going through an auto wash comes as no surprise at all.

Although each subsequent piece likely draws from similarly ingenious techniques, Olson and Young are too proficient to let their music slide into elusive abstractions. Instead, from the arcing electricity pops and watery splashes of ‘Radio Box (excerpt)’ to the clobbering dustbin percussion and crunched, Lightning Bolt-evoking vocal escapades of ‘Dreams In Shattered Time’, the music follows an upward, increasingly enticing trajectory traced by broken rhythms and sticky melodies.

On songs like ‘Engaged Withdrawal’, ‘Exploding Time’, and ‘My Whole Life’, fragments of distorted spoken word appear beneath scattered textures, clarinet-mimicking leitmotifs, and even the occasional neon-lit darkwave synth in another nod to Chicago Surrealists, like Franklin Rosemont, Penelope Rosemont and Tor Faegre. Despite being rendered unintelligible, the texts are delivered with grit and conviction, suggesting a presence of mind that goes way beyond the autotelic. Taken together, they conjure a vision of a doomsayer in a crowded square whose warning pleas are drowned out by all-consuming urban chaos.

Pulsing space rays, bird calls, snake-charming woodwind lines, harsh noise stabs, chew toy squeaks, and bouncing rhythms in the vein of Black Dice mingle together across the rest of the cuts. There are too many moments of passing brilliance to catalogue them all, but against all odds they ultimately fit into a close-knit and almost catchy whole. While their exact nature might be unknown to us, there is method to this entropy, an invisible conceptual force that allows Wolf Eyes to discover yet another avenue of their creative prowess.

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