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Straight Racket

Hearing The Musical Depth In The Cacophony Of Three Volume Pushers

Smell of Steve Inc.

By Marc Masters | Posted 12/28/2005

Noise is more often tagged by what it’s not—polished, accessible, catchy—than what it is. So it’s no shock that many noise groups sound nothing like each other. Lightning Bolt, Excepter, and Prurient are connected by prosaic concerns, such as shared labels—all three have recorded for Providence, R.I.-based Load Records—but a quick spin of their latest dispatches reveals a philosophical connection as well. Each attacks its chosen sound with Zen-like devotion, mining a singular style in search of increasingly minute shades of gray.

No band in any genre is more laser-focused than Providence speed-noise duo Lightning Bolt. Hypermagic Mountain (Load) is its fourth album, and first in two years, yet little new has resulted from the downtime. Instead, bassist Brian Gibson and drummer Brian Chippendale continue to hammer at a core sound that sounds molten, infinitely malleable. The songs fly frantically by, with superhuman string runs, nanosecond snare stabs, and buried yelps leapfrogging in a colorful blur. It’s easy to zone out to the duo’s endless energy, but once Hypermagic has depleted your lungs and strained your muscles, there are still more ideas and sounds to get lost in.

Hypermagic’s first half is classic Lightning Bolt, full of blinding stop-start slams and choking engine-rev riffs. A peak comes in “Birdy,” as Gibson sprints through a noisy sandstorm that evokes early Metallica with the skin torn off. It’s during the album’s second half, though, that the buzz of the duo’s druglike repetition really kicks in. “Dead Cowboy” seesaws through two-note cycles, Chippendale’s drum blades chop through Gibson’s heavy chords on “Mohawkwindmill,” and the infinite repetition of “Bizarro Bike” recalls the multi-fingered fury of fellow two-man math-metaller Orthrelm. But where that group’s dehydrated guitar figures often feel like clinical exercises, Lightning Bolt’s roll-over riffery is all muscle and bone, dripping with viscous blood and coughing up fiery phlegm. Such pulsating physicality makes the duo’s refusal to budge from its time-tested attack a wise, exhilarating move.

At the other end of the energy spectrum is Excepter, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based quintet whose murky music progresses in slowest motion. Previous releases buried the band’s basic elements—wavy synths, Casio-like canned beats, and moaning voices—under thick layers of distortion and echo. But Self Destruction (Fusetron), Excepter’s first album using multitrack recording, is strikingly stark, with large swaths of space and clarity. The lack of a noisy cover doesn’t weaken the music, which remains weirdly warped and darkly hypnotic.

The central figures in Self Destruction’s surreal sonic play are the voices of leader John Fell Ryan and husband-wife duo Calder Martin and Caitlin Cook. Their drowsy delivery turns robotic rhythms and hallucinatory synths into dying techno. This is disco music for arid deserts, with the singers crawling slowly in a heat-stroked daze and the dehumanizing instruments forming sonic mirages. The aptly titled “I Don’t Get Wet in the Rain” sounds disembodied, with slurred vocals that emit dust, while the mathematical “BB+B (For 2b/2c)” smears video-game bursts and pained moans over a preset 808 beat. Self Destruction climaxes in a pair of album-ending Martin/Cook duets, sending the previous tracks into a ever-widening black hole. To the uninitiated, Excepter’s sleepy music might verge on the comatose, but after multiple listens the band’s persistent vision is spellbinding.

Compared to Lightning Bolt’s permanent overdrive and Excepter’s lockstep sleepwalk, the sound range of one-man Brooklyn band Prurient is paper-thin. Live, Dominick Fernow’s muscular energy is viscerally enthralling, but his wall of noise tends toward the monochromatic—which makes the relative diversity of the new Black Vase (Load) a surprise. Certainly, there are a few one-dimensional tracks here, made of a grating, unflinching noise whose sole purpose is ear surgery. Tracks such as the piercing “Roman Shower” and the puncturing “Soft Crack” are taunts aimed at tinnitus sufferers. But Fernow’s use of well-timed screams, abrupt edits, and accelerating percussion also reveals a deft eye for texture and detail.

Like the sludgier noise of Fernow’s cohorts Wolf Eyes, Black Vase works best when tribal drums and distended howls create a guttural industrial music, akin to Einsturzende Neubauten relocated from the German capital to a run-down U.S. city. “Silent Mary” crashes into catharsis through clipped loops and distorted yowling, while “Sorry Robin” rolls into a brainwashing bombast, and the dizzying “Back Cuts” conjures the echoing punk deconstructions of no-wavers like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks as well as the art-damaged blast of the Boredoms. When things calm on the album’s final tracks—the harrowing, cavernous “Lord of Love” and the rumbling, sawing “Myth of Love”—it’s hard to say what’s more surprising: that Fernow gets so much mileage from so few sources, or that he’s clearly got more sonic terrain to explore.

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