Wolf Eyes

No Answer: Lower Floors

If you exclude all the handpainted CD-Rs, split 7", rare cassettes, and recordings scratched onto the hind of a taxidermied white-tailed deer in a limited edition of zero, this is Wolf Eyes’ first ‘proper’ release since 2009’s Always Wrong. It captures the group in a state of internal transition at a time when the wider noise scene is evolving, exploding, splintering, dissolving, or perhaps obliterating itself at an alarming or exhilarating pace (depending on how you look at it).

So long as you’re not easily distracted by what sounds like a serial sex offender whispering into your ear, you could have a jolly good dance to the latest Prurient LP. Carlos Giffoni has retired his No Fun Fest and embraced acid house. Pete Swanson is forging his own skewed take on beat-driven techno. As Cut Hands, William Bennett has foregrounded his African influences. Just when you think you’ve found an artist who will stick to vehemently unprogressive ‘harsh wall noise’ played with a bin-bag over his head, it transpires that Vomir has unmasked, picked up an acoustic guitar and started performing ‘ultra-shit folk’.

It’s no wonder the noise superstars are desperate to break free from their self-imposed shackles. Anybody open-minded enough to play noise in the first place would never be so close-minded as to stick to it, and recent Wolf Eyes side-projects have also experimented with form and genre. With Stare Case, Nate Young and John Olson have produced some excellent gonzo jazz-blues, while the bouncing scuzzy synth work of Young’s Moon Pool & Dead Band has proved surprisingly jovial.

Mike Connelly recently quit Wolf Eyes to concentrate on Hair Police (though he contributes to No Answer: Lower Floors, along with the ex-member he replaced, Aaron Dilloway). Young and Olson’s newest recruit is guitarist ‘Crazy’ Jim Baljo. Apparently, Baljo has also joined Stare Case. With both bands now functioning with the same line-up, will there be a blurring of where one ends and the other begins?

Opener ‘Choking Flys’ suggests so. A conventional, if minimalist, drum rhythm backs moody electronics, growling distortion and lyrics half-sung, half-spoken, about… well, about some sort of harrowing mental anguish.

Elsewhere, the fuzzed chanting of ‘Born Liar’ is like Brooklyn’s Sightings collaborating with a demented snake charmer. ‘Chattering Lead’ is what happens when you smash a John Carpenter soundtrack into a thousand pieces, glue it back together with gastric juice, and play it to a homeless poet using the beak of a marsh hawk’s skeleton as a makeshift gramophone needle.

Despite the disorientating effect of its dissected and spliced vocals, at under a minute and a half ‘No Answer’ ends before it fully hypnotizs. This skimping is compensated by the album’s tour de force, ‘Confessions of the Informer’. Its twelve minutes of sparse, creaky abstraction are creepier than a night in a dilapidated mansion with only a disgruntled poltergeist and a Haxan Cloak-designed, malfunctioning Buddha Box for company. If the purpose of meditation was to reach a state of trembling, cold-sweated paranoia rather than contented enlightenment, this would be its Reiki Panpipe Spa Moods II.

If noise used to be about extremes, No Answer: Lower Floors is more focussed on restraint, and its harsher moments are deliberately misleading. The brash sax, beats and screeches that open ‘Born Liar’ immediately give way to a sparer, weary tranquillity. They kick back in again, but never as severely as expected. While final track ‘Warning Sign’ starts dramatically, after the piercing drilling sound transpires to be a loop your ears quickly grow accustom to its shrill repetition, making the piece more mesmerising than bludgeoning.

If you thought Human Animal took too long to jolt out of the speakers to pulverise your brain, this might not be the Wolf Eyes record for you. There are no song-titles like ‘Urine Burn’, ‘Leper War’ or ‘Mangled Rusty Dog Rot’. We’re never fully or persistently stabbed in the face (or ears). Outright aggression has been superseded by the manipulation of tension and suspense. Don’t get me wrong, No Answer: Lower Floors isn’t exactly Tubular Bells, yet Wolf Eyes are making it abundantly clear that they are growing older and wiser and, yes, even mellowing. Wolf Eyes were never one-dimensional, but they’re adding an increasing number of strings to their duct-taped noise bow and more moods, techniques, textures and subtleties to their bile-splattered palette.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today