A Journal Of The Dark Arts
One of the reasons i started Forestpunk (two of the reasons, really) was one simple two-pronged question: How To Tell Good Noise Music? and, side question, How To Make Noise Music? The search engines prove remarkably un-helpful, as noise remains the Wild West of post-tonal, post-structural, physical acoustic phenomena. “Music” in the loosest sense of the word.
To further the dilemma, noise musicians tend to release scads of records, most notably Masami Akita, aka Merzbow, who sometimes releases several albums a month. For many noise musicians, it’s about the process, documenting the steps, and the physical artifacts themselves. Since the fetishization of consumer objects for its own sake is somewhat problematic, it leaves us noise freaks in a weird spot, in the 21st Century. Why listen to this shit? What’s good? To the untrained/uninterested, every noise album sounds “the same”, “its just static,” we hear, over and over. “Nothing ever happens.”
Many of these complaints are valid. I don’t always want to be blasted in the head with a belt grinder. When i don’t, i shy away from the genre. It doesn’t negate either the philosophical intrigue of various noise forms, nor the textural, tonal, or structural possibilities.
But what place does noise serve in today’s musical eco-sphere? The contradictory nature of something like harsh noise being codified into a rote series of tropes is as nullifying as punk’s co-option. Once it’s been seen, explored, and discussed, we’re left to wonder if noise’s tumult isn’t just audio sadomasochism, or gratuitous wanton violent imagery that no longer transcends taboo but rather wallows in the mire.
Questions like these have given rise to semi-satirical/semi-serious manifestations like Wolf Eyes‘ John Olson‘s recent admonition that “Noise is dead. #Tripmetal for life!” – trip metal being modern permutations of traditional noise moves, but tethered to rhythms, harmony, melody. A lot of today’s roughcut industrial techno reminds me of trip metal, as does some of the weird guitar and synth mutations of bands like Emeralds/Mark McGuire or Expo ’70.
Which brings us to Which Is Worse, the third LP from Problems That Fix Themselves. Which Is Worse is a decidedly more composed affair than PTFT’s earliest work for Already Dead, which seemed much more off-the-cuff and straight-to-tape. There are actual songs here, as well as melodies, chord progressions – there’s even some singing. It’s like pop music stretched out to the sunrise, or an Hindustani devotional hymn to V.A.L.I.S.
Which Is Worse is 7 tracks – 4 on the A and 3 on the B-side. Organ drones are in abundance, courtesy of a Baldwin tabletop organ, underpinned by oozing basstones and punctuated with occasional bursts of white noise. The gentle ebbing organ drones of album opener “Which Is Worse” (video clip below) gives way to cosmic motorik kosmische drum machines, the pulsing, fluttering”Maximum Occupancy”, giving way to the mutant breakbeat of “Black Elvis”, plastic rainbow organs and a locked snare beat, locked and hypnotic and shimmeringly effective; it’ll put you in the zone.
The A-side concludes with the bent, bleary, distorted, sweet “Sunday Song”, featuring the vocals of Problems That Fix Themsleves collaborator Victoria Blade. It brings to mind early Grizzly Bear, or a less party damaged The Casket Girls. It’s a beautiful, emotional moment, faraway, dreamy, blurred around the edges and glowing like Technicolor. Its one of the album’s most striking moments, and a great way to end side A. You’ll want to drop the needle back at the beginning, and take off to the stars again.
Side B brings the noise, with three lengthy tracks. “8:62” sounds like live programmed drill ‘n bass, joined with raggedy harmonium, like some rave in a Krishna tent. “Elsie Mary” is another of Which Is Worse’s most beautiful moments, with a glowing 3-note organ hymn floating and trembling in space. It sounds like radio antennae on the horizon, while snowflakes drift in slo-motion.
“Slowburn”, the album’s longest track, at 7:48, is also the noisiest and most terrifying, proving that PTFT have not entirely ditched the steel wool abrasion of their noise roots. It’s kind of a harsh jolt to end the trip on, but it’s a risk, and i like it.
Which Is Worse is a great one to have on vinyl. I love how it facilitates endless repeat listenings, listlessly flipping the sides in the middle of the night like i’m doing right now. I like having the vinyl around, to contemplate its mysterious nearly black-metal anonymous aesthetic, complete with copious swag on the inside, several stickers and two posters.
As you can see in the clip above, my factory cartridge can’t necessarily keep up with the deep bass tones here, but i don’t necessarily mind. I’m a noise cat, and a little rumble never killed anybody.
Which Is Worse is, quite simply, essential late night exploratory keyboard drum noise nirvana. You know how quick records tend to go among smaller bands, so it’s a miracle that there’s still a few of these left.
Problems That Fix Themselves are still at it, currently working on their new record and playing shows. We eagerly await to hear what they come up with next.
Already Dead were kind enough to send us a copy of Which Is Worse, along with a stack of other audio curiosities that we’ll be getting to as quick as we can.
Already Dead recently celebrated their 200th Release! with the monolithic Document ii (a retrospective), (review pending), which comes with the insane Golden Ticket for 100 downloads! for the last one hundred albums on Already Dead, for a crazy cheap $10. This is an indispensable way to support a cool, up-and-coming indie label and hear a boatload of musics of all types, times, and genres.
Already Dead were some of our earliest supporters, and we’re still listening, enraptured. They represent a midwestern contingent cross-section of math rock, noise, garage, synthpop, twee, indie, acoustic, collage, and things you can’t even imagine.
As things go on here, i’d like to expand the scope of this project, linking up various scenes and regions and collectives via Forestpunk and its visual component, Bitstar. I’d love for this to be more of a place to share and spread events and releases, collaborate and listen – connect the dots between all different kinds of under-the-radar art.
Got a scene, an area, a label, or collective you think we should know about? Let us know in the comments!
Got vinyl or tape you’d like to see reviewed at Forestpunk? Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Physical Promos” somewhere in the title. We believe that physical media is so essential to really experience and appreciate music. Having physical copies makes it so much easier to relate to and remember, not to mention listen to repetitively. I also love to have physical media to play on my radio show, Morningstar: The Light In The Darkness.
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Tune into every Sunday night/Monday morning for Morningstar: The Light In The Darkness @ Freeform Portland! Exploring the dark side of techno, hip-hop, shoegaze, metal, psych, folk, and soundtrack. You can listen to the archives online at mixcloud.com/for3stpunk.