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Wolf Eyes - Burned Mind

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Artist: Wolf Eyes

Album: Burned Mind

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Nov. 17, 2004


It's not just Gilles Deleuze who thought folks were becoming less fleshy; David Cronenberg loves a good organ-less corpus – as long as the guts are replaced with tangles of live wires, circuit boards, or VCRs. The body's a bother to lots of philosophic, (quasi) religious, and sexual "movements," too. Buddhists begrudge the body; imagine thought trying to think whilst wearing a robe of rotting meat. Sadists and masochists operate in the repulsion/compulsion arena: On the one hand, flagellation brings the pain, erasing the bod and sketching sensation in its place; on the other, without a skin to strike, there isn't any ecstasy. Getting rid of the corporeal, and getting our tech on is big business. Corporations arrange conferences that sound more like course listings at Bard College: "Machines That Become Us: The Second Skin In Clothing, Fashion & Technology." Why even read Philip Dick or Sam Delany when SPAM fills the inbox encouraging one to "Tune into the TV that's tuned into you!"

Inevitably, technology and the body's functions have become conflated. Voices have lost their lungs, and are relegated to cell phone converse, or are converted into Helvetica by one's BlackBerry. Even mere presence is becoming obsolete; companies now hold e-meetings, where groupthink/brainstorming is no different than 'Instant Messaging' a friend. Of course, nowhere is technology's potency more pervasive than in music, especially the avant-garde's most preened commodity, "noise."

Take the laptops, the oscillators, the FX pedals, the homemade/jerry-rigged electronics, and the outrageously amplified sound away from these sonic terrorists, and the din is de-toothed – nothing remains but an adipose'd grumble in sound's soft underbelly. Could Masami Akita make do with some rocks and a mouthful of mud? How 'bout Masonna? How would they be received if they resorted to Maciunas like antics – snipping people's clothes off in lieu of a "performance?" Probably wouldn't work for the Asian tandem, and it wouldn't work for Michigan's Wolf Eyes either.

If Deleuze had made it past '95, he might have written about this. Machine & Man as inextricably bound; one can't "have"/experience one without the other. Wolf Eyes, the moniker alone, connotes the hissing, malfunctioning electronics, the hysterically overdriven contact microphones deep-throated by Mr. Dilloway, the fist-pumpin' inducing BLIP . . . BLIP . . . BLIP sounding like Pong's progress made percussive. They've created a bona fide brand; they've enabled someone with a modicum of familiarity to read the eight letters and immediately register the "sound." This is bigger that being able to articulate what a band sounds like; this is bigger than being able to draw comparisons: The "idea" of Wolf Eyes, and the "actuality" of Wolf Eyes have – in all honesty – meshed. Not to say that Olson and Dilloway haven't worked at it: 23 releases in 2003 alone – mostly on their own labels, Dilloway's Hanson, and Olson's American Tapes. But, it's not because of the product's preponderance; it's because they've "maintained" their aesthetic like some hyperactive teenager on fistfuls of Levitra.

As far as personal aesthetics go, it's a complete wash. "Aesthetics" is a noun that's become as numbed as "philosophy" has; everyone's got their personal "philosophy," even if it's what empowers their hawking of juicers via 4 a.m. infomercials. Of course, it has nothing to do with the mind/body problem, or the question of Being. Aesthetics – the real stuff, armchair variety and grad table discussion – is all about approach; it's all about perception. It's about what the agent finds pleasing, whether it's fried pork liver or Picasso. Wolf Eyes' aesthetic is simple; they want to melt your motherfucking head. Like all the Mego guys under the grip of experimental hallucinogens and fire-wiring the world's USB port with the worst PCP nightmare imaginable, Wolf Eyes bring the pain omnipotent, it's just encoded into centripetal objects called compact-discs. And, Burned Mind is no exception.

'System Error' addled electronics open the disc, rolling ass-backwards into a whole lot of post-Trent Reznor'd vocals, and an enacted field recording of a factory full of assembly-line condemnation. Clemency? Not possible. Does not compute. This is the place where language's designation melts off and bubbles up like rendered bacon fat. These words aren't so much words, they're rather impolite bodily functions like vociferous spitting or feral farting, but instead of yielding saliva or miasma, they coat and crust each grunt and growl with both: a letter, an odor, so on and so forth. Admittedly, this isn't anything antithetical to the Wolf Eyes M.O.; yet, this music evolves – quickly.

The entire panoply of sounds from past recordings is brought to the forefront and depleted prejudicially. Sonic serpent rattle, centrifugal drones, cottony flashes and fizzes, dog-whistle squelch, electronic hives freed of their bees – the whole lot's here, and it's incrementally larger and more agitated than prior show-'n'-tell sessions. Yet, it should be noted that this is a controlled unleashing; nothing is left to chance; there's no let's-see-what-happens with Burned Mind – everything is deliberate, and contained: Each piece slips out into the air fully formed, and regardless of what sort of metaphor is attributed, they all eventually deliquesce. It's not like a tangible or phenomenal equivalent would serve the understanding – like the clichιd piece-as-sonic canvas: Whatever is posited can – and is – broken down further. This music resists holism like the Bush administration resists reality. There are no wholes. Everything is sonically segregated: Sounds seize up and stand in separate boxes; little rectilinear boxes that persist in popping up over a track's duration like fantastically blue-gilled mushrooms. Yet, despite demarcation, transformation continues: Now it's not pieces-as-boxes, only geometry – only segments, and lines, and points. Perhaps this is the point: there's something, and it's nothing, and here it is – and isn't – and deal with it.

Man Machine? Maybe. There's not much room reserved for humanity in Burned Mind. Olson & crew convincingly dehumanize a completely humanized process: music making. For Wolf Eyes, the utilization of electronics is no different than vocalizing. Bringing the electrified squall is akin to pushing wind up through the throat to rattle the vocal cords. Yet, if Wolf Eyes have become the body electric, they do so consciously: accepting the conflation of technology and the corporal is self-confining; instead of a model, it becomes an ensnaring byproduct of pop philosophy which neo-thinkers are sometimes too willing to populate, as if their so-called aperηu was as real as the world they walk in. Some good would be done for all if the over-heated clauses that cover their eyes were wiped away like a stubborn stool that refuses to tank in a toilet.

Regardless of the ostensible absence of the ol' flesh-'n'-blood in the noise genre, Wolf Eyes' ecce homo is disseminated in reverse; instead of man becoming machine, machine becomes man. Presence? It's in the amp. Voice? It's dungeon'd in the esophagus engulfing the contact mic as a boa does a rodent. Groupthink? It suffers the worst demise: eschew the shared values, and adopt the shared aesthetic; but, with these guys, sound is enslaved; there's no submission to the machine. The so-called second skin is noisily shed, like a tornado freeing an entire subdivision of its roofs. The master/slave paradigm stays with those studying Hegel; Wolf Eyes transcend all this bullshit, and do so convincingly. Highly recommended.

By Stewart Voegtlin

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