Whilst many producers go their whole career without raising their heads above the parapet, there are those, through simple reason of the remarkable catalogue they amass, who achieve a certain celebrity in their own right. Martin Bisi is one such producer. From the depths of his famed B.C. Studio (recently the subject of a documentary), Martin has produced records by the Swans, Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch and more (many more, in fact), earning him a reputation for eclecticism that borders on notoriety.
If the presence of Martin Bisi is a boon when it comes to piquing the interest, then the presence of a Nefarious Industries catalogue number on the sleeve is of paramount importance. Self-described as “the home of a bunch of big, dumb noise”, it is, to my mind, one of the few labels out there fighting against the creeping tide of commercialism in music. Whilst the label’s output will not be to everyone’s taste, it taps into the abstract ethos of the late 70’s no-wave movement, drawing together such disparate artists as A Fucking Elephant (reviewed here) and mOck (reviewed here), and forming a loose-limbed collective where the progressive nature of music as an art form is celebrated in oft-chaotic style.
The label’s latest release is a beautifully packaged, perfectly recorded example of chaos in motion. Informed by the rampant experimentalism exhibited in Miles Davis’ ‘bitches brew’ and filtered through the lens of ‘sister’-era Sonic Youth, Brandon Seabrook’s Needle Driver features just five tracks and introduces the listener to a multi-faceted whirl of music, the like of which will leave the listener dizzy and uncertain. Syncopated beats and atonal chord progressions are the order of the day, all shot through with arcing feedback and layers of sheet-metal noise, and the result is a glimpse into the dark inspiration that the dark alleys of Ney York seem to foment.
At the outset, ‘synonymph’ neatly slices through expectations shifting nimbly from a chord progression that would not sound out of place on a Joe Satriani album to an unholy, dizzying whirl of noise that would have the late Davis leaping around the stage in ecstasy. Jazz, but with a rock ‘n’ roll undercurrent, the guitar playing is unhinged, permanently sounding on the verge of nervous collapse, and yet always driven by Allison Miller’s gloriously eccentric rhythms. The final piece of the puzzle is Johnny DeBlase’s gnarled bass tones, which serve to recall the wilfully unpleasant sound Kim Gordon achieved on ‘Sister’ and ‘Bad moon rising’. There’s a remarkable life in this music, the various sections linked by genuinely progressive interludes that calm the mind before the next athletic movement sends the listener spinning away from safety once more. With no safety net in place, we’re then catapulted into the neo-sonic youthisms of ‘Ocular Rabies’, a track that sees sheets of guitar noise fused together with only Johnny’s nimble bass work providing any sort of foundation upon which to rest. Harking all the way back to the barely-listenable ‘Sonic Death’ only to install a metallic groove that edges into Dillinger Escape Plan Territory, it’s hard to pin down from where the steadily creeping levels of excitement are originating, and yet they’re there, driven home by Allison’s vibrant percussive maelstrom and Johnny’s end-of-the-world bass licks. Just two tracks in and you can feel the echoing influence of the past as it is forcibly strained through thirty years of inspiration, the metallic aspects imposing a structure of a sort upon sounds that once floated, freeform, in a vacuum.
At the EP’s centre lies the damaged, spasmodic contortions of ‘Entropic vacuum party’, a short, brutal piece of music that tips a hat towards Fantomas at their most unyielding before Brandon allows his band a moment of respite with the harrowing, echoing noise of ‘Ventwhorerisin’’ building tension before the storm breaks and the listener is showered in white hot guitar debris and blazing bass riffage. A near-perfect exercise in tension-and-release, it would be the best thing on the EP if not for the mangled noise of grand finale ‘Optical flavorist’. A deranged piece of music that exposes the raging core of the djent movement and forces it through the wrong-headed compositional nightmares of Glenn Branca, it’s a kaleidoscopic masterpiece that sets the pulse racing as it teeters madly towards its epic denouement.
This is one of those reviews that is not, in itself, difficult to write, but it has been time-consuming simply because I keep finding myself drawn so fully into the immersive world evoked by the music that I keep forgetting to type. A throwback to the gleefully inventive scene fostered by the likes of Swans, Bisi and Sonic Youth, if those artists have been much referenced it is because they shed some light on Brandon Seabrook’s antecedents, and Brandon Seabrook’s Needle Driver ultimately sounds like nothing other than itself. Not for those for whom familiarity breeds safety, Brandon Seabrook’s Needle Driver is an avant-garde masterpiece that throws down a rough-covered gauntlet to all those who would claim innovation in their art. 9