To its antagonists, noise is just that—noise. There are no subtleties, no degrees of separation, no art, nor technique. Just noise. It’s not a terribly difficult opinion to understand; just as the human brain is inclined to find recognizable facial features in everyday objects or scenes, so does it want to find patterns and organization in sound, be it languages or music. This is, of course, not a scientific statement so much as an observation, and only makes sense, given the relative unpopularity of noise and the comparative simplicity of top 40 radio. This isn’t meant as a judgment of course, it just is.
Proponents, however, will tell you otherwise. There are patterns, there is organization, just not by any conventional means. It seems like a contradiction, but read a chapter or two in your chaos theory textbook and you’ll find that patterns emerge seemingly where there is no predetermined organization. With noise there are just as many subgenres and niches as there are in any other style of music, and the level of order within such suggested chaos can not only be great, but sometimes rigid. Sightings fall somewhere in between strict construction and absolute disorder, presenting themselves as purveyors of actual songs with “melodies” (for lack of a better word), structures and progressions.
Sightings’ latest effort Through the Panama comes as a bridge between Wolf Eyes-like feedback wails and the droning avant-pop of Liars. Suffice to say, it’s a truly bizarre piece of art, though one that’s thoroughly interesting and often sublime. Within the liner notes of this Andrew W. K. produced album (nothing here resembles “Party Hard” in the slightest), Richard Hoffman, Jonathan Locke and Mark Morgan are billed as playing bass, drums, and guitar/piano, respectively. He who can determine which sound is which on this buzzing, hissing ten-track Thunderdome has a much better trained ear than I, because nothing resembles its original source through the walls of distortion and feedback. That said, it sounds much cooler.
With “A Rest,” the trio begins with a tribal rumble, one obscured by robotic bees and crackling infernos. “Debt Depths,” meanwhile, is almost catchy in its fuzzy pagan punk stomp. The group’s reading of Scott Walker’s “The Electrician” is adequately disturbing, particularly given how unsettling Walker’s own music is of late (which is to say, more so than any noise band’s). Of all the tracks most likely to live up to its name, “The Most Real of Hells” is the one that truly succeeds, with any semblance of civility and form being shot directly to the titular depths. Even with the most difficult tracks there, there is still a very loose order. These are songs, after all, with shapes and arrangements just like any other, just a lot noisier. Noise, after all, isn’t always just noise.
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.