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Mouthus - Saw a Halo

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Artist: Mouthus

Album: Saw a Halo

Label: Load

Review date: Jan. 9, 2008

Though as prolific (if not more so) than most of their “No Fun” generation peers, Brooklyn duo Mouthus’ collected output is easily one of the most singular in all of modern noise and free rock, successive releases adding a few minutes at a time to what sounds like one of the most gloriously burnt album sides in recorded history. Undoubtedly dedicated to the continued exploration of blown out caveman rock thuds, guitarist Brian Sullivan and drummer Nate Nelson have only managed to sharpen their still-“blunted” blasts as time has worn on, creating music that dwells on the crunch of Sullivan’s amps while finding newer ways to allow Nelson’s drums the space to push things forward.

More than anything, the bulk of the band’s output thus far is as much a reflection of their surroundings as it is the influence of any long since passed albums from like-minded bands. Birthed mostly in and around a small studio called the Tarpit (which was shared with Double Leopards for a spell), a small room right next to Brooklyn’s infinitely foul Gowanus Canal, early Mouthus’ recordings spoke as much to the ruined stench of their industrial surroundings as they did to any great noise pantheon. An appropriately named box of a room, sounds created in the Tarpit weren’t recorded so much as stuck to tape, coated in a murky resin and transmogrified into something wholly more sinister.

It’s surprising, then, that the opening salvos of Saw a Halo, the band’s first disc for Providence label Load, come not from a maxed out amplifer, but rather a slightly out of tune acoustic guitar. Coming as close to outright balladry as these two are ever likely to get, “Your Far Church” draws an immediate line between itself and the whole of Mouthus’ previous work. Settling into a spare groove of Sullivan’s sleepy vocals and Nelson’s bell-like percussion, the track slowly gives way to more pronounced squalls of “Armies Between.” While more immediately redolent of the group’s recent albums, this track demarcates itself from the past in subtle ways as well, as Sullivan wrests control from his feedback and gives Nelson a chance to ply the track with one of his most overtly rhythmic efforts thus far.

From there, Mouthus continue to perform welcome transformations on their signature sound, offering a hushed backdrop for ‘Century of Divides” that contrasts neatly with whispered vocals and gently insistent percussion. Elsewhere, “Beaches Sleep Here” almost approaches Current 93-esque levels of twisted folk noise, while the closing “The Gift of Sighs” builds from bare restraint to scorching guitar leads as the album winds down.

Given that Saw a Halo is easily the most compelling record that Mouthus has ever done, it should come as no surprise that it’s the first disc recorded outside the grimy confines of the Tarpit. And while the location change doesn’t fully account for the sonic revisions and quietly confident performances on display throughout the record, it does help them ring with a clarity and a refined sense of purpose that could, at times, be missing on other albums and releases. More than just another entry in Mouthus’ constantly expanding discography, Saw a Halo is simultaneously an endlessly deep listen and an unexpected high water mark.

By Michael Crumsho

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