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Mammal - Lonesome Drifter

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Artist: Mammal

Album: Lonesome Drifter

Label: Animal Disguise

Review date: Oct. 30, 2007

"Life's a bitch and then you die." Such a phrase might be banal, but it sums up the idea driving the latest full-length from Mammal, a.k.a. Detroit's Gary Beauvais, its easy sentiment and simple diction expressing the inevitable logic Beauvais grapples with over eight bleak, grinding soundscapes of guitar distortion, castrated drum machines and burned-out vocals. Hindsight allows one to think that Mammal's extreme noise antics had an end-game, and that this was it, but this isn't a full about-face; rather, it's a shift in perspective, an admission that maybe the extremes are a limited resource. They can only give so much before they start taking back. Mammal's theme might lack nuance and doesn't show any real evolution from previous releases, but his execution and mode of expression have gained in clarity and focus, which means Lonesome Drifter might hit harder than anything he's done to date.

Mammal is not about extremity of sound any longer; he's about extremity of mood. Desolation is the key Beauvais has chosen, and he never strays from it. From the opening drum machine kick of "Repulsion,” echoing as it does into a flat void, the listener is made aware that the place being entered is a troubled one. When the raunchy, stillborn Tony Iommi guitar chord comes crashing down, not long after the maimed rhythm hobbles out onto the deserted back-lot, ruined factory yard or wherever it is that this psycho-drama of an album takes place, the effect is crippling, and there's really no return. Beauvais plays up the heavy-metal riffage, teasing it out but never delivering it. The riff is intense, wrecked inertia, moving briefly into distorted blast or into cone-razing rumble – forward seems like an unknown direction. "The Drift" uses the same skeleton crew of riff and rhythm, the kick-kick snare-snare snare pattern the tune rests on is so stark that it's mocking itself, staring at its own shriveled reflection in the mirror, pointing and laughing in derision, in great sweeping bass-billowing howls.

The album pivots around the three vocal tracks, and it's these three tracks that help flesh out Mammal's superficial theme into something meatier. Their straightforward lyrics suggest just enough to give the instrumental pieces a role in a larger narrative of leaving, journey, downfall, and finally death. "Fatherlands" tells a tale of some individual, presumably young, packing up and leaving his parents behind. Where he's going and what he intends to do there is left entirely unsaid. The next track is "Cyclops,” a two-part dirge representing our broken down traveler's run-in with more than he or she can handle. Its first part is all purging pools of mid-level feedback growl that occasionally peak in frequencies high enough to make a listener wince, the second a queasy bass-driven groove, an illusion of something going well. "Drifter in the City" sees the return of the album's main character, this time wandering in the city, probably hazed out by the fumes he's been inhaling. No surprise, then, when the narrator tips headfirst into the total erasure of "Incinerator Ballad,” the closest one gets to the Mammal of old, with a drum machine left to beat itself to death in a cacophony that chews up everything that approaches it, even the squall of feedback one faintly hears in the background. But strangely, the extremes on this piece, and the others here, feel eviscerated, emaciated, like Beauvais has leeched the vitality out of his noise. And to think, he accomplished this evisceration with a few sketchy lyrics that don't distinguish themselves in any way.

One could fault Beauvais for his unimaginative storytelling or heavy-handed symbolism, or pick at the way he refuses, even rejects, the notion that one can find their way out of the wasteland he conjures up, but answers, if even intelligent questions, are not what we've come to Mammal's music – to noise – for. We want to be obliterated, and noise, Beauvais's chosen language up to now, has been a willing partner, an easy lay, pants around ankles, skirt around the waist, whatever way you want it, as long as the night gets erased, if only for a static, sweaty moment.

Of course, there's always an aftermath, a morning after, and that is the part that noise hasn't been very good about. It never meets your eyes after the act is done, and certainly never asks how you are feeling or thinks about you the next morning. This avoidance - not sonic excess or macho posturing – is noise's true failure. Noise, more than many other kind of music, rubs the listener until they are raw, leaves them beaten and vulnerable. And that vulnerability is space where much could happen, where fresh ideas could take root.

Up to now, many noise acts have preferred the cheap, annihilating thrill of the backroom fuck to anything more lasting. While Mammal has certainly not gone soft here, he’s more receptive to the possibility that what comes after the end, after the obliteration, might be more interesting than the deed itself. Why else would he close out the album with "Cremation,” a nearly 20-minute meditation of wheezing, decrepit bass, probably from the remains of some old synthesizer, and a tortured single-note howl on guitar? The piece never moves anywhere, just glows like embers in the funeral pyre, and it finally gives way to some field recordings, the piece opening just a crack to the world outside. Those gulls squawking away at the fade out might mean that the world goes on, but it also means that you are no longer a part of that world. Again, it's not really an answer, and it's certainly not hopeful, but at least it recognizes that in some way, we've got to deal with the end.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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