Album: Panzer Division Lou Reed
Review date: Nov. 30, 2007
On what is at least the 16th release under the Sunroof! moniker, Matthew Bower turns in one of his most brutal, primitive performances to date. Tapped in to that diamond point of amphetamine rush where the energy spikes, Bower and his cohorts eradicate any concept of what is forward or what is backward. The music endlessly seeks plateaus, and once it arrives at a new one, it pulls up the ropes that helped get it there, levitating you ever higher and ever more precariously, posing a koan to you in the process: Is it the crest of the wave or its crash?
The evolution of Bower’s sound is one of degree, not kind. He’s tried chirping, flickering soundstreams (Bliss), rickety rhythmic thrust (Cloudz), even writhing digital-induced mayhem (Silver Bear Mist, yet on each release, Bower is essentially sharpening the same knife he’s had for years: a total abandonment to the craggy extremes of feedback, static and other musical detritus. He knows music can be a tactile experience, and he exploits that possibility to the fullest.
His music has long been compared to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, so Bower now makes the comparison explicit in the strained syntax of the title. It is half-tribute, half-invocation, the reference to the German WWII tank adding attack imagery to the mix. But where Reed birthed his monument to stochasticism and then orphaned it, Bower has nurtured the idea, doing what Lou Reed didn’t have the will — or the balls — to do: He’s made a career of slaying our eardrums and synapses.
What’s most impressive about Bower’s work is that it suggests a kind of music that lies outside of improvisation and composition. It almost literally forces one into heaps of metaphors and analogies for description, so thoroughly does Bower obscure most of his sound sources and avoid traditional musical grammar. The crush and swirl of “Stairways and terraces descending one beyond another in a stupefying state of exhaustion” is like gazing into the billowing turbulence at the bottom of Niagara Falls. “Etoile Sauvage” seemingly taps into a raw feed of static from the ether, making for an aggressive, burrowing drone. Pieces like these don’t so much erase your thoughts as sweep them aside with an irresistible shove.
Under these conditions, dialogue, interaction, balance, and teamwork are all unnecessary notions. And yet, the two parts of “Slew Plateaus” (“#1” with Mick Flower on guitar and John Moloney on drums; “#2” with noise provocateur Mattin) burn with the most energy and intrigue here. Perhaps this is due to the live recording, or perhaps it is how, with collaborators, the inevitable, elemental movement of the music becomes apparent. It becomes clear that what keeps Bower’s gales of electronic chaos and guitar feedback from pulling themselves apart — what makes it listenable — is not any notion of structure or form; there’s an intangible force, a kind of audio gravity lashing them down long enough for a listener to jump on, strap in and lift off.
By Matthew Wuethrich