Dissonant music straddles the line between provocation and catharsis—there is deep potential for such noise to evoke either or both “whoa, I hadn’t seen the world this way before” and “yeah, this encapsulates the arbitrary chaos that I experience.” In the pursuit of dissonance, Vivian Tylinska, the one woman behind Victory Over the Sun, composed Nowherer in 17 equal divisions of the octave on guitars that she re-fretted herself. Sure, dissonance is entirely possible within the standard tuning, but we’ve all heard that so much that it starts to sound normal. But when the notes fall right in between the spaces you expect, everything feels askew.
Like her music, Tylinska’s lyrics are highly conceptual. I lost track of the number of times I looked up words—more than once the dictionary was useless, and without at least a rudimentary understanding of abstract algebra and Latin liturgies there are parts of this story that will remain a mystery. That mystique, though, as with the alternative tuning and experimental songwriting, is all part of the experience. The beauty at the heart of this project is the juxtaposition of the familiar—rhythms, timbres, (some) words, percussion—with the absolutely mind-bogglingly alien.
Much of this music feels visceral and violent, but in a more calculated way than that description might conjure from the generic reaches of extreme metal. The frenetic guitars feel like a frantic scraping, like the inhuman precision of an old-school seismograph tuned into some otherwise unknowable natural force. Warping bass lines bop around, not only up and down but punching from every direction to accentuate the frenzied rhythms. Opening track “Nowherer” focuses on the noise; jagged guitar lines overlap and compete like a rapidly unraveling spider web. The muffled production on “God Howling in a Cage” produces a classic sound from the next room over, but it’s the microtonal tuning that makes it feel like from the next dimension over.
As high concept as the project might be, “Alveromancy” whisks us away on a non-stop riff train. Somehow it grooves without settling into a pattern. Spinning endlessly, just as you pin down the rhythm or melody everything pivots, the one consistent throughline is constant motion. The movement only ends to ascend into a heart-wrenching finale of sweeping guitar and rolling drums. It seems an even greater accomplishment to produce catchy riffs, let alone emotionally evocative ones, with the most discomforting tones.
Closing track “Oscines” is a 21-minute epic poem about someone transforming into a songbird. “quilling my skin, the tips of feathers extruding, piercing / Bones growing hollow.” The lyrics are separated into three acts. The second begins near the transition from meandering prog to a blackened math shuffle. “Morning rays glisten, glisten, glisten; / mourning, raze.” And the third marks a brief and shimmering downshift into pure noise, before resetting the groove towards a climactic finale. Everything twists on a dime and blooms into a breezy indie rock passage with a plucky synth so pretty only the microtonal dips retain the memory of the prior 35 minutes. It’s not long before the breeze starts gusting harder and the sound gets overblown, rising to a cacophony somehow heavier than anything that came before—a beautifully chaotic absurdity that dazzles to the very end.