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V/A - Secrets and Sounds

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Artist: V/A

Album: Secrets and Sounds

Label: Animal Disguise

Review date: Oct. 3, 2004

From Michigan's Animal Disguise label, this collection presents recordings from 2001-2003 by 22 artists. Most of the names here will be unknown to nearly everyone, the few exceptions being Hair Police, Growing and Nautical Almanac. The strange names, similarity of approach, and thin information with the CD almost makes one suspect that the same person or persons are behind most of these pieces - but who knows. The mystery could be considered part of the appeal, perhaps, though the label has issued very limited-edition tapes and CD-Rs of many of these artists.

A friend of mine recently remarked at a show that "noise is the new emo," and the relative growing popularity of groups like Wolf Eyes and Black Dice makes me think he might have a point. Rather than wearing one's emotion on one's sleeve and letting it all out through catchy punk melody, perhaps the next trend is to purge through noise while most of the audience pretends to enjoy it. If that's the next wave, Animal Disguise has a jump on the competition. These pieces are consistently murky and noisy, maintaining a stubbornly ultra-lo-fi aesthetic, though to be strictly accurate they often straddle the line between ambient and noise. What surprised me most is that very few of the pieces here are based around a band context (like the aforementioned groups); maybe I expected that (somewhat unfairly) given the Michigan home base the label shares with Wolf Eyes. Instead, the Animal Disguise artists take their cues from old-style experimental artists. These songs bring to mind names like Pacific 231, Club Moral, Esplendor Geometrico, even Whitehouse and early Ramleh.

Many of the pieces here start with crude drum machine rhythms, and throw an assortment of electronic, synthetic, or simply processed-to-hell sounds over the top. Mammal, for example, make me think with their track of old Smersh, of all things, with a fuzzed-out drum machine smashing away amidst electronic scree and scrape; though the track later decomposes into pure squiggly static. Liger lay down warbly synthetic sounds over tin-can percussion, while Ferox Head's all about furiously chugging drum machines and churning noise and Libythth get comparatively poppy with their distorted rhythms and melodic synths.

The electronic, distorted tones obviously bring to mind Japanese forebears like Merzbow, Incapacitants and Third Organ, but there's also a playfulness to many of the pieces here. This isn't, for the most part, confrontational noise - it's almost friendly. Meerk Puffy's bubbling electronics buzz and fly around, and Rotflol offer something like a New Wave song put through a fuzzbox. Neon Hunk toss out some chittering rhythmic sounds and weird mechanical noises, and the superbly-named Smashed Femur Dance Party emit squiggly noises over simple-minded guitar plucking. It's all in good fun, it seems, even when folks like Prurient start screaming through a distortion pedal with their best Masonna/Con-Dom costume on.

There's also a fair amount of minimalism here, from Nautical Almanac's quiet, buzzing static to Viki's sound textures and Charles Lareau's quiet radio snippets, which are like listening to your next-door neighbor's radio through the wall as he tries to tune in the latest news. Sinking Body's piece is like the sound of a distant factory, and Growing's title says it all: "F-4 Fantom Flying Overhead" is a brief piece of ambient buzzing.

Some pieces here are seemingly the product of a group, generally offering up what some in Japan have taken to calling "scum rock" - not a bad description. Hair Police spew a minute of dirty bang and scrape, beyond the reach even of Pussy Galore and Harry Pussy. Football Rabbit (another fine name) were recorded from the other side of the street, apparently, but their murky punk flail is nonetheless a great deal of fun, and The Lowdown start out almost normal and then, with perhaps the best piece on the comp, deteriorate into damp-sounding drums, shouts and screeching feedback sounds.

Certainly, listening through these 73 minutes is not for everyone, and it might even be termed torture by your less open-minded friends. But even aside from being an intriguing documentation of a current basement-sound aesthetic, the 22 tracks offer some definite names to watch. Your mileage will vary with each piece, but you'll be rewarded more often than not if your constitution is hardy enough.

By Mason Jones

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