Various Artists – NOISE

In their downtime from story-boarding episodes of Rick and Morty and Mr. Pickles for Adult Swim, the team at Williams Street Productions has been an odd source of quality underground music compilations and albums. Not only does their catalog feature works from the likes of Captain Murphy (a.k.a Flying Lotus) and Destruction Unit alongside annual, multi-genre compilations, nearly all of these albums are entirely free to stream and download. If you’re searching for a negative here, there isn’t one, a point the company proved yet again last month with their most avant-garde offering to date. The appropriately blunt title for NOISE should point to the abrasiveness of this collection of tracks; an eclectic range of compositions from an equally broad roster of artists, all of whom approach “noise” as a malleable concept meant to be stretched to its limit.

It’s difficult to think of a better artist than clipping. to launch a compilation of this nature. Though the noise-hop trio channeled their inner sci-fi buffs on their last record Splendor & Misery, the crew returns to their penchant for grimy street narratives with “Body for the Pile,” a vivid, violent tale of murdering a cop as he swivels in an office chair. Across three relatively short verses, Daveed Diggs‘ signature style of meticulous detail delivered with a dynamic flow captivates from the moment his character comments on the “Stains in the wainscoting” up until they muse “That there’s one less lung sucking air today,” presumably with a reflexive slant. While he never truly explains the motive of his protagonist, Diggs’s rhymes are clearly informed by a political undertone, as is evident by the character’s indifferent tone towards such a grotesque scene:

Swivel chair where the blue suited sir sits slumped/Brains splattered wall stained grey matter runs/Badge with his name makes blood on the tongue/Cause it’s pinned to his right cheek/Right where the gun must have first flirted/Before it was stuck in his mouth/Officer *bleep* with his brains blown out

This final line is perhaps the most poignant of Digg’s rhymes, as it seemingly flips Kendrick Lamar commentary‘s on peer violence from “m.A.A.d. City” to instead reflect a confrontation between  a civilian and a police officer, with the former killing the latter in the assumed safety of their own office. The musical backbone of clipping. (William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes) enlist help from industrial producer SICKNESS to take the themes of tension and conflict from Kendrick’s track and translate it into their own industrial rap mold, crafting a minimalist beat that bolsters the track’s narrative with jarring textures of feedback. Listening to the album with headphones reveals just how consuming this combination of beat and lyrics truly is; as Digg’s lyrics pepper the listener with its morbid content, the instrumental traipses across the ears with unsettling waves of noise.

 

Though clipping. launches the compilation on a stellar high note, the albums best two offerings come later in the track list, courtesy of burgeoning death industrial act Pharmakon and experimental industrial veterans Wolf Eyes. Interestingly, their unique approaches to industrial on the compilation are linked by what appear to be references to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre soundtrack. On Pharmakon’s Bestial Burden outtake “Squall,” Margaret Chardiet lurks under a repetitious sample seemingly lifted from the soundtrack to scenes from Leatherface’s lair. As the track reaches its climax, Chardiet presents everything that made BB so successful – blood freezing screams straight from the bowels of human suffering and penetrating sonics that literally inspire physical nausea and discomfort (this honestly isn’t an exaggeration). Wolf Eyes opt for the introductory sound effects accompanying the film’s chilling first scene on their track “Subterranean Life,” blending the panning whines of camera flashes from the murder scene photo shoot into the song’s hellish soundscape. It’s fitting that the band’s nearly nineteen minute dark ambient epic closes out the compilation; intense shades of noise and moody atmospheres conjure the darkest moments of Sunn O))) and latter-career Swans. Both these tracks should solicit a deep desire to sift through these artist’s back catalogs and hope for a new project to arrive promptly.

 

Even though the three aforementioned tracks are the compilation’s clear highlights, there’s no shortage of quality material offered by both established acts and relative unknowns. Prurient proved his dexterity on Frozen Niagara Falls, and “Everything You Know Is Wrong” from NOISE only affirms this trait. The track’s commanding melody pulsates through a backbone of noise, delivering another instance of Dominick Fernow’s effortless ability to infuse raw emotion into his noise compositions. Other key tracks on the album include offerings from EYESadaf and Dreamcrusher, lesser known acts who excel in their additions to the track list. “Mega Equipment Popsicle” sees EYE present a hypnotic blend of electronics with a noticeable Asian theme, all of which is reminiscent of Matmos‘ excellent 2016 album Ultimate Care II. Also paying homage to revered musicians, Sadaf’s “The Clinic” impressively blends noise and vocal samples, coming across as an extra experimental outtake from Björk‘s collaboration with Death Grips on Niggas on the Moon. And with their late gem in the compilation, Dreamcrusher present a futuristic, melodic take on glitchy noise, as if the more jarring moments from Tim Hecker‘s discography were remixed into dystopian dance tracks.

 

The album’s only weaknesses rest with a few tracks, none of which reflect poorly on the esteemed discoveries of their creators. This is particularly true of Melt-Banana‘s contribution “Case D in the Test Tube,” a seamless blur of noise rock, grindcore, electronica and J-pop that exemplifies why they’ve become a legend in the underground rock community. However, as musically adept as the track might be,  Yasuko Onuki’s vocals continue to be an acquired taste that might only appeal to listeners already privy to her style of singing. Tracks like these make one wonder just how much more incredible the band would be if their music omitted Onuki’s high-pitched, atonal shouting. On the flip side, Merzbow‘s “For Adult” is truly an ode to his most ardent fans, as the prolific harsh noise icon capably justifies his status but falls short of matching the forward thinking noise tracks found elsewhere on the compilation. And though Arca‘s swirling blend of air gusts and noise blasts holds quite a bit of promise, it’s less than two minute run time leaves the musical kernel feeling like a squandered seed.

 

Even with these slight blemishes, NOISE is a compilation that deserves a “something for everyone” label despite focusing on a notoriously impenetrable genre. The free download  should be a selling point in and of itself, but even without it, this is a truly impressive compilation of everything the broad umbrella of “noise” has to offer that would be well worth a purchase.  While the artists deserve most of the credit for NOISE‘s success, Williams Street must also be commended for their clear grasp of current underground music trends and expert curation of a style of music that’s not particularly easy to understand. Here’s to hoping the production house continues to challenge their audience with releases comprised of music from artists that deserve much more attention than they typically receive.

NOISE is available now for FREE DOWNLOAD via Adult Swim/Williams Street Records. If you’re still not convinced you should snag the comp by this point in the review, then I guess you just don’t like doing nice things for yourself…you have my condolences. 

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