Wolf Eyes‘ new album Undertow seems to raise the question of where music begins and noise ends. Surely there are those who will scoff at the very idea of even asking this question. But, as a music journalist, if I don’t ask these questions in a public forum, who will? Certainly trust-fund art shows and coffee shops are not where dialogue is happening. So in looking at the new album by Wolf Eyes, allow me to rock the boat a little. Don’t roll your eyes just yet.
The question that faces any of us when we press play: Why spend an hour of our lives listening to something? It’s a fair question and one we take for granted when we press play on the new Future or Pallbearer album. This album rather deceptively lured me in. The opening song sounds like the Velvet Underground jamming on a darker, slinkier free-form jazz with Sun Ra, with some Lou Reed-like vocals. The timbre of Nate Young’s voice is reminiscent of when Gordan Gano of the Violent Femmes went into his creepier commentary. There is a bassline that holds the otherwise abstract soundwaves intact. Even as far as this band goes, “Laughing Tides” comes across as more of an interlude than an actual song. More feedback starts off “Texas,” and while I know it’s a big state, I tend to think it would have a more solidified sound than buzzing, fuzz and pick scrapes. The feedback does swell into Hendrix like outbursts, though.
Minimalist harsh noise certainly has an audience, and the blanket-like sheet of sound certainly has a therapeutic quality to it. I couldn’t help but spend some time, while listening, pondering what drugs these guys were taking when they made this and what drugs would be best taken to fully appreciate this. In the album’s second act when more guitar creeps in, you can hear where it might be great in the wee morning hours when the acid is simmering. It’s easy to relax and float downstream deeper into the album, but they don’t have the melodies of the Beatles to bring you back from their “Revolution Number 9.” Undertow is certainly an album that trumps any weirdness that the indie mainstream can offer in terms of experimental novelty. But the best litmus test for an album is how will this stand up over time, and the middle ground between noise and songwriting that this album offers could certainly find it going either way. Only the individual listener can answer that question, and that’ll happen some distance from now.