Hair Police are – and this is a scary thought – Wolf Eyes’s evil twin. They share a lot of the same grim atmospheres, but the former have dissolved most links to any form of “standard” music, notably jazz and rock, preferring to center their sound around drifts of caustic electronic drone and Mike Connelly’s ruptured vocals. Where Wolf Eyes have something of a structure at play (some might even say they’re a bit too knowing in their restructuring of rock tropes), Hair Police have increasingly removed rhythm and melody altogether in favor of queasy non-tunes that shiver and seethe in a variety of directions before congealing into unstable wholes.
Mercurial Rites is quite possibly the band’s most slovenly release to date, with percussion and rhythm reduced to the bare minimum and sickly synths running throughout the eight tracks, highlighting the central role of electronics man Robert Beatty; he also records synth-heavy music as Three Legged Race and is almost as much of a focal point as Connelly here. Likewise, Connelly has spent the last couple of years recreating the haunted dirt roads of Midwestern America into music form via his Failing Lights project, so it’s little surprise to find the ragged attitude of the band’s previous significant album, Certainty of Swarms, replaced with an atmosphere altogether more restrained, yet equally uneasy. “We Prepare” opens the album with ominous bell tolls and hazy background drones, like something out of a John Carpenter movie involving zombified sailors or something. Fractious, minimal drum beats and sudden high frequency squeals quickly join the fray, before Connelly launches into deranged vocalizations that lurch from sinister whisper to anguished howls of “WE ARE READY TO LOSE THE FINAL GRIP!” In the world of rock-related music, the only vocalist I can think of who comes close to being as terrifying as Mike Connelly is Alan Dubin of Khanate fame. There may be a slightly campy side to such overbearing drama, but somehow you can’t escape the feeling that Connelly is living this pain as he sings it.
From “We Prepare” onwards, Mercurial Rites is like a sickly onslaught, from repetitive, Throbbing Gristle-esque industrial clanks and inchoate vocal rasps on “The Crevice” to the distant bass reverberations, scattered drum patterns and mutated vocals of the title track, via “The Scent”’s build-up of static walls over Connelly’s consumptive screams. Hair Police live up to one of the founding principals of modern noise, namely to provoke discomfort and alienation among the very souls hardy enough to want to buy their records. And they never flinch. Mercurial Rites is as mean, sordid, bleak and unnerving as Constantly Terrified or Certainty of Swarms, and this despite featuring notably shorter tracks. If anything, it’s a more brutal proposition, because these restricted track durations forbid the band any chance to stretch out, resulting in three-to-four-minute slabs of dense, inert noise tapestries and vocals so untethered from any familiar form that they become little more than desperate, inarticulate pleas for help that will never come.
Hair Police don’t do nice, and even though such an ethos is no longer as remarkable as it was just a few years ago – and certainly not shocking in the way the aforementioned Throbbing Gristle were in 1977 – Connelly, Beatty and drummer Trevor Tremaine’s stance is so absolutist, so resolute that the results are often as overwhelming as we could have hoped for in these jaded times. Where Wolf Eyes are smart, Hair Police are sick, and what an enjoyable, if unsettling, sickness it is.