Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Grave words for out music

Stellar review of Aufgehoben on Noiseweek.com

The always-reliable Holy Mountain (now based in Portland after a buncha years in S.F.) is not exactly a noise label, but one of the many great things about their impeccable selection of psych-rock, stoner-rock, and sun-baked-folk is that it almost always comes with an outer lining of noise. My favorite recent example is Residual Echoes, whose jammy psych frequently pushes into destructive red levels, but historically speaking, no one on HM has made rock outta noise and vice versa like the god-like Steven Wray Lobdell and his Davis Redford Triad. So many of the tripped-out, long-chorded DRT CDs blur the cracked line between rock and noise, to the point where Lobdell's best moments split the difference perfectly between Hendrix and Haino. He's been a bit dormant of late but I'm sure he's still out there grinding away, at least in his mind; hopefully he'll do so in mine too soon enough...

All of this has little to do with British improv outfit Aufgehoben, except for the crucial fact that their fourth record, Messidor, is their first for Holy Mountain, and as such represents the label's farthest swing toward the noise banks of the rock-noise river. Not that Aufgehoben don't display a lot of rock elements, at least in abstract: crunchy distortion detonations that sometimes resemble guitar riffs, shimmering high-end sheens that sometimes sound like distended cymbals, pounding time-cutters that often sound like imploding drums. But, whether it's due to sheer volume, logic-testing recording techniques, or the way these guys rework their own improvised recordings before committing them to final tape, the noise side of noise-improv-rock is well-attended on these seven super-forceful tracks, and the result is pretty cranium-reshaping. I can't quite get my finger on what makes this so mammoth-sounding - the band has this massive crunch and skeleton-shaking, air-depressing sonic footprint that feels like it's pushing hard against your chest, kind of like what I imagined when I heard Peter Brotzmann had a guitar-playing son (not that Caspar isn't great himself, but his stuff doesn't quite have the force of Aufgehoben's clanging dissonance).

Anyway, I'll spare you the rest of my internal fumbling to figure out what makes Messidor so inhumanly strong, and just tell you that it is. I especially the dig the way it has a slight Euro free-improv feel too; the drums especially are semi-jazz-ish in their loose, rolling quality, but the scorching noise makes them sound like they're on fire, kind of simultaneously metallic and digital (not far from the guitar-drum battles of Ascension, but with more crunch). Mostly I'm floored by the way Aufgehoben can both unleash and contain their sound - there's certainly no holding back here, yet everything is totally viewable and unblurred, as if the extreme distortion actually clarifies the pummel, kind of the way that Sightings' insistence on pushing the limits of their recording equipment paradoxically shapes and defines their noise instead of squashing it. HM's press kit mentions New Directions Unit, Throbbing Gristle, and This Heat, and while I can't argue with any of those, I love the way Messidor feels grimier and more basement-worthy than those hautier precedents. Sure, a Wire writer and a well-established improv type are involved, but still this album sounds like it'd fit better on American Tapes than Emanem.

There's lots of great stuff to choose from here (and a few sampled on the band's own page), but if I can have only one, I'll take the album-ender, "Ends of Er": a great example of Aufgehoben's ability to make silence sound loud and loudness sound subtle. About halfway through is the noise sweet spot, but every section here offers some sonic liquid nitrogen to dip your head firmly into.


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