Kevin Drummís latest album may be Relief, but its not the sort that will go down easy. After two relatively easy listening releases (for Drumm, at least) -- 2008ís Imperial Distortion and 2009ís Imperial Horizon -- Drummís not only returned to the label that released what many consider to be his finest moment, 2002ís Sheer Hellish Miasma, heís also brought back some of the ear shredding snarl that marked his landmark works in the early 2000s. While Drummís never really abandoned the hard stuff (and thereís been plenty of cassettes and CD-Rs released in between), the bridge from these two Hospital albums and his newest is a striking one. Lovers of the more placid tones of Drummís Imperial pair arenít totally out of luck, but on Relief theyíll need to do some digging.
Relief is markedly single-minded: The albumís sole track begins in media res, dropping the listener into music thatís already reached a high boil, and the intensity is sustained over the albumís entire 37 minutes. The musicís top layer is a cacophonous brew of upper register mayhem, a symphony of distorted squeals, squelches and static panned across the stereo field. Whatís more interesting about Relief, though, lies below its shrapnel laden surface, in an underground river of doleful drones that peeks up between the sharp corners and spiny spasms causing a ruckus up above. One might say that Relief is like so many people in the world we live in, wildly active and energetic on the outside, obscuring a sustained sadness at its center. The unwavering tension in the albumís two-tone construction is what keeps these ears at attention. This Relief isnít about succor; itís two surfaces set apart for perceptual effect, and the albumís all about those two disparate levels and what happens in between.
Even at its most chaotic, Kevin Drummís music usually belies a sense of intentionality, a feeling of controlled purpose no matter the severity of the storm. Itís one of the things that sets him apart: Iíve heard fans talk of Drumm as the most ďmusicalĒ of noisemakers, or a man who can do more with a few carefully sculpted sounds than most could do with a million. Relief is missing some of that feeling, at least at first glance. But when one begins to move between the albumís two levels, letting their focus fall through the crowded clamor above to the sad siren song thatís running below, before pulling back up again as attention wavers and the ears readjust, the music almost takes on a three-dimensional quality. It seems clichť to say that music works on a few different levels, but in the case of Relief, itís true.