Wolf Eyes

I Am A Problem: Mind In Pieces

Almost surreptitiously, Wolf Eyes have become something of a rock band. Of course, the gristly industrial messiness that has long defined their career through various line-ups means there’s not much that your casual rock fan would identify with on I Am A Problem: Mind In Pieces, but equally the squalling atonality that peppered albums like Burned Mind and Human Animal around the midpoint of the last decade has receded somewhat in favour of a woozy, halting rhythmic thrust that the current line-up of Nate Young, John Olson and Crazy Jim Baljo use to sketch out diseased song forms that are closer to haunted atmospherics of ex-member Mike Connelly’s Failing Lights project or even the tantric new weird Americana Of Sunburned Hand Of The Man than, say, Prurient or Richard Ramirez’ harsh noise.

Cynics will point to the album’s release on Jack White’s Third Man label as the reason behind this shift, but the signs were already evident on their last major release, No Answer: Lower Floors, in 2013. And anyway, major (ish) label or not (and let’s not forget that Burned Mind came out on Sub Pop), Wolf Eyes don’t do compromise and this tend towards fractured melodicism reaps quite a few rewards. In fact, whilst I Am A Problem: Mind In Pieces seems to chime with a slight resurgence in noise rock of late (see great new releases by Sightings and Liberez), and there is more "rock" on it than most historical Wolf Eyes’ material, it ties in neatly with the directions the members have been exploring over recent years, notably in Nate Young’s solo career, the Olson/Young side project Stare Case, and other ventures Young in particular has embarked upon such as Demons and Toxoplasmosis. Though these outfits vary substantially, they all involve to a greater or lesser degree a reimagining of traditional American musics via distortion, horror atmospherics and noise. The drum machines that dominate tracks like ‘Twister Nightfall’, ‘T.O.D.D.’ and ‘Enemy Ladder’ are laden with hard-rocking potency, martial in their deployment, even on the last of those tracks veering into almost hardcore territory.

Equally prominent, although not necessarily intelligible, are Nate Young’s bullish vocals, which often veer into a barked invocatory style reminiscent of Stephen Mallinder of Cabaret Voltaire rather than the inchoate death rattle rasp of a Dominick Fernow. Jim Baljo’s guitar is more conventional than I had expected, with chugging riffs and brutish solos buffeting the collapsing electronic mulch thrown out by Young and Olson, who also sprays about a few melancholic notes on sax or clarinet, most effectively on doomy opener ‘Catching The Rich Train’. This hybridisation of rock’s archetypes with more esoteric and noxious textures extends to the album’s title, which suggests an almost schizophrenic approach from the trio, as if they are engaged in creating some sort of coherence out of the detritus of their own minds’ grasp on rock idioms. In that respect, I Am A Problem: Mind In Pieces, is a resounding success.

This album marks a continued evolution in a subtly different new direction for this most idiosyncratic of American alternative bands, one of the few "allowed" to deliver this most unsettled of musics in a quasi-mainstream setting. After repeated listens, I’ve come to the conclusion that it and No Answer: Lower Floors represent a welcome refinement of something Wolf Eyes have been articulating since their humble beginnings way back in 2000, and while it is altogether too short to have the impact they were probably aiming for, as part of this fascinating continuum, it’s a must for all fans of fucked-up outsider rock.

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