White Rock: Tarpit
White Rock: Tarpit
When Lou Reed told Lester Bangs that his notorious 1975 noise epic, Metal Machine Music, hid snatches of Beethoven and Vivaldi under its abrasive surface, it was probably a joke. But the best noise bands (many inspired by the still-challenging MMM) achieve something similar to what Reed claimed: layers of droning sound that, when peeled back by subsequent listens, reveal tones and patterns buried deep within. That’s true of two current noise stalwarts: the pedal-heavy, drone-worshipping quartet Double Leopards and the grimy sound-wrestling duo Mouthus.
Double Leopards shape noise into lengthy, massive clouds; live, all four members kneel onstage, moaning into microphones and massaging effects into an earth-shifting din. Mouthus, by contrast, is more rock-styled, with Brian Sullivan coaxing screams from his guitar and Nate Nelson punching his drums like a sparring bag, but the duo’s journeys into noise are just as dense. The two groups collaborate as White Rock, with Nelson and Sullivan joined by Leopards Mike Bernstein and Maya Miller. Tarpit (named after the bands’ shared studio in Brooklyn, N.Y., where it was recorded) offers two untitled, 20-plus-minute tracks of thick, gargling drone.
The album begins gravelly and textured, like a bumpy stream of lava. Hisses, hums, and whirrs emerge randomly, then coalesce into a deep 3-D blur. The progress is so gradual it feels illusory, as if White Rock is simply sitting still, but jump backward in the track and it’s stunning how far the group has traveled. So much sound piles up that it’s tough to tell what’s really there and what one’s brain is adding, but distinct, choppy blasts eventually form a beat, which later doubles into a charging industrial march. Track two treads more lightly, with more pronounced turns (including dips into near-silence), but the variety of aural events—organlike buzz, animalistic groans, whirring wind—makes for a fitting comedown from the first track’s apex.
As hypnotizing as Tarpit is, it pales a bit next to Mouthus’ third full-length. Previous albums were fascinating forays into sound assemblage, but Slow Globes hits new heights of Zen-like devotion. Each track nabs a single idea and attacks it from every angle—lighting it on fire, drowning it, burying it underground, and launching it into the air. The opening “Storms” morphs a Fleetwood Mac riff into a metallic Big Black-ish loop dragged through dripping sludge. “See Us Look” inserts trebly electric beads into a thickening fog, like a dripping faucet interrupting a bad dream. The album closes with its most surprising moves: the distant chugging of “Way to Fade Your Cloud” mimics an Indian radio station transmitting from a mound of dirt, while “Scatterings’” eerie, detuned strings conjure Derek Bailey and Jandek scoring F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. That such stellar referents get evoked so uniquely suggests that this duo has even more vistas to conquer. Perhaps for Mouthus “noise” isn’t a genre or a sound, but simply another word for possibility.