Circa 2010, the word “noise” has become almost as malleable a term as “rock” or “indie.” In some sense, you know what you’re going to get with a “noise” band, at least in the abstract. Distortion, feedback, static-these are all hallmarks of “noise,” in terms of its place in music. But add “-pop” or “-rock” to the end of the word and its definition alters slightly. Then noise is less about genre and more about a means of ornamenting existing melodies and structures. Masonna and Dinosaur Jr. don’t sound particularly similar, nor do Wolf Eyes and Shellac. And then there’s Sightings, a band whose own complex and idiosyncratic approach combines characteristics of the aforementioned bands in a vat of sonic filth that somehow ends up sounding like none of them.
Having tread this unique ground and building upon it for a good decade or so, Brooklyn’s Sightings have refined and perfected it to a new, artful plateau on seventh album City of Straw. Their finest effort to date, City of Straw continues on the path they set forth on 2007’s Through the Panama, manipulating static, overdrive and twitchy electronic signals to alternately disturbing and sublime ends. It provokes and it prods, screeches and sears, but in the end, City of Straws is a surprisingly accessible piece of work given just how many barriers there are to digesting the structures beneath the clatter.
The album’s opening clicks on first track “Tar and Pine” are surprisingly low-key. It’s not until about 50 seconds in that any actual noise elements begin to squeal through the tempered beat, and once they do, they become a rhythmic rumbling, sounding something like an industrial take on Liars’ tribal dirges. “Jabber Queens,” however, is a bit more hyperactive in its approach. Beats and clicks work in a strange circuit as a high-speed bassline flutters beneath unsettling vocal chants. The title track doesn’t adhere as strictly to any kind of framework, traversing through various movements of buzzes and howls over its nine-minute running time. “Saccharine Traps” is short, terrifying and loud, like the best hardcore songs, but more complex and weird, of course. Yet “Weehawken” contains the closest thing to an actual riff on the album, a buzz-sawing surge of two-note fuzz guitar over a militant, marching beat. And “Sky Above Mud Below” closes the album with a badass noise rock anthem that very well could be a single…just not one you would hear on the radio.
Neither noise-rock nor noise-pop, or even pure noise for that matter, Sightings utilize distortion and dissonance to brilliant and innovative ends on City of Straw. It’s an overwhelming work of art, but one that only takes a short time to win over the listener brave enough to give its discordant dirges a chance.
MP3: “Tar and Pine”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.