Giants of Noise Rock

by John Rickman
Noise rock is a genre that’s easy to identify but difficult to describe. Punk-inspired but cryptic in presentation and heavy on abstraction, its practitioners clearly operate in uncharted territory. The ruckus that’s all the rage is also largely a northeastern phenomenon as exemplified by popular purveyors Black Dice, Lightning Bolt, Magik Markers, and Excepter. While vastly influential, the left coast is still the best coast for unearthing the most interesting in neo no-wave noise rock.
Just recently, three of my favorite noise rock bands released amazing new full-lengths practically simultaneously.
The Long Salt
Mouthus – The Long Salt
On “The Long Salt,” Brooklyn duo Mouthus swings for the fence with a particularly painful new compendium of distorted disturbances. The guitarist’s feedback attack, which predominates the proceedings, is unrelentingly torturous but also strangely narcotic. The rhythm section pops away like an orchestra of nail guns, transforming the wall of sound into a metal shop soundtrack that crosses over into good, old-fashioned industrial music territory on a couple of occasions.
Mouthus come across more like medicine men then musicians the way their signature, strangled moaning haunts every song from within. Their unique uproar defies convention and is only marginally translatable as music. The rhythms make you want to move, but not to any step that’s recognizable, and the grief-ridden wailing penetrates the soul, but disturbs the mind. Not your parent’s magic carpet ride.
End Times
Sightings – End Times
“End Times,” the new full-length by Brooklyn trio Sightings, is a sound spectacle of fright. Their music violently disrupts the air and lashes out menacingly, arousing one’s defenses. The three-piece are presented through the prism of a muffled, in-the-red recording, establishing an aura of dominance and advantage over the listener. It’s a wry move that complements the physicality of their art form and compounds the difficulty in discerning where composition and improvisation diverge within their music.
Mark Morgan slices away at his guitar, cutting razor sharp spikes of sound from it. His maniacal vocalizing expresses a range of reactionary emotion from dread and depression to rage and horror, eliciting nervous laughter from this listener. The bass and drums, also in an unbounded state of excitement, transform the proceedings into a full-fledged, frenzied shit fit. On the last track, the instrumental “Slow Boat,” the band sounds consumed by its own psychic energy and aggression, perhaps reflecting the fact that on this occasion they’ve really outdone themselves.
Expedition to the Hairier Peaks
Mindflayer – Expedition to the Hairier Peaks
The new Mindflayer full-length is another bag of hammers altogether. The duo, which originally hails from Providence, RI, consists of Lightning Bolt drummer Brian Chippendale and Forcefield knob-twiddler Matt Brinkman. This is the unit that puts the noise in noise rock. Chippendale, a rhythmic whirlwind on the drums, creates a monolithic din all by himself, and Brinkman’s deep, low-end electronic rumbling swirls the supercharged sounds into thick, cacophonous stew.
This new Mindflayer full-length is denser than usual, contains few vocal outbursts, and features epic-length tracks. If you have the constitution to survive the 11-minute opener, “Rally for a Wind War,” you’ve got what it takes to see the expedition through to the end. This is anti-music that satisfies on a purely gut level.