New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: slowcore

A Hauntingly Relevant World War I Concept Album From Bare Wire Son

Multi-instrumentalist Olin Janusz records under the name Bare Wire Son. Whether kinetic or atmospheric, his music has a relentlessly bleak intensity. One obvious comparison is the gloomy, cinematic processionals of Godspeed You Black Emperor. Other dark postrock acts, from Mogwai to Swans come to mind. His latest album Off Black – streaming at Bandcamp – is a World War I song cycle, often utilizing texts from journals by mothers who lost their sons. Janusz is a one-man, lo-fi orchestra here: everything is awash in reverb, vocals often buried deep in these slow but turbulent rivers of sound.

The parallels between the Great War and the lockdown are stunning, making this album all the more relevant. Chemical warfare played a major role: poison gas in 1918, deadly hypodermics 103 years later. Propaganda campaigns of unprecedented proportions are central to both events. The drive to get the British and the US involved in the war was inflamed by stories of hideous atrocities on the part of the “Huns,” as the Germans were rebranded. The ubiquitous, multibillion-dollar ad blitz promoting the needle of death also relies on many fictions, from grotesquely inaccurate computer models, to blood tests rigged to generate false positives.

The album’s opening track, Involuntary is a crescendoing conflagration, possibly a parody of a Catholic hymn, with a cruelly cynical coda. Percussion flails out a sadistic lash beat over the organ textures in Cenotaph, struggling to rise against a merciless march that finally hits a murderous peak.

Janusz assembles Saved Alone around a series of menacingly anthemic, twangy reverb guitar riffs and whispered vocals, shifting from a lulling organ interlude to a roughhewn crescendo. From there he segues into CSD, a brief, portentous, organ-infused tone poem.

Simple, ominous guitar arpeggios linger over an industrial backdrop of cello, percussion and organ in Ends Below: the visceral shock about two thirds of the way in is too good to give away. The Gore is portrayed more minimalistically and enigmatically than you would probably expect, resonant washes of slide guitar and organ behind a crashing guitar loop

Close-harmonied organ textures and cello drift through Antiphon, joined by guitar clangs and slashes in The Bellows and extending through the dissociative flutters and funereal angst of Kampus. Spare, Lynchian guitar figures return in Fingernest, an emphatic, pulsing dirge rising to Comfortably Numb proportions.

Heavy Grey is the closest thing to indie rock here, although it reaches an anthemic vastness at the end. Janusz trudges to the end of the narrative with the hypnotic Red Glass and then a quasi-baroque organ theme cynically titled Voluntary, This is one of the best albums of 2021 and arguably the most haunting one so far.

Dark Tuneful Uncategorizable Indie Rock from the Martha’s Vineyard Ferries

The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries‘ debut album is titled Mass.Grave (you get it, right? Massachusetts supergroup-of-sorts?). Kahoots’ Elisha Wiesner plays guitar and sings with Shellac’s Bob Weston on bass and Chris Brokaw – who’s played with everyone from Steve Wynn, to Come, to Jennifer O’Connor (whose insurgent Kiam Records is putting this album out) – back behind the drums. As the title implies, this is unassumingly dark, thoughtful but very catchy stuff, unadorned without being threadbare. Most of the seven tracks here sound live; there don’t appear to be a lot of overdubs. You could call it postpunk, for lack of a better word.

Wiesner writes most of the songs. The first track, Wrist Full of Holes, works insistent, chromatically-charged guitar riffage over a loping beat. They bring in phasers on the chorus: cool touch! There are hints of Elliott Smith, another guy with a Massachusetts connection.

Track two, Parachute, sounds like an early 80s Boston band’s take on the Gang of Four, noisy but without any of the affections. It’s about an actual parachute jump,  or a metaphorical one, a pulsing, minimalist beat dropping out for a series of tradeoffs between the guitar and bass and then back up in a hurry. She’s a Fucking Angel (From Fucking Heaven), by Brokaw, adds layers of dreampop guitar and the kind of offcenter, noisy edge you might expect from a longtime Thalia Zedek collaborator. It’s also the funniest and most upbeat song here.

The best song here is Ramon and Sage. An insistent intro hands off to variations on an enigmatically clanging, resonant guitar phrase and then a deliciously catchy verse over Weston’s fuzz bass. It’s over in less than three minutes but could have gone on for twice that and wouldn’t be boring at all. Blonde on Red also begins with an insistent, rhythmic intro, evoking early Wire or Guided by Voices without the faux-British thing.

Weston’s Look Up, an anxious Boston-area motorway narrative, also has Wire echoes, that fuzz bass again and a sarcastic chorus: “Look up from the telephone, step off of the curb alone.” The last track, One White Swan is a post-Velvets slowcore dirge, Brokaw subtly coloring the funereal pulse with his fog-off-the-ocean cymbals as eerie vocal harmonies slowly rise to take centerstage over a minimialist guitar loop; this track also evokes Zedek in ultra-hypnotic mode. Safe to say that there is no other band alive who sound anything like them. It would be great to hear more from these guys; if this is the only album they ever make, it’s a gem, one of the best of 2013.