A Liminal Review: No Answer: Lower Floors (May 9th, 2013)

The personnel changes, but Wolf Eyes continues unabated. Following Aaron Dilloway’s lead, Mike Connelly has now departed the Midwest noise icons’ fold, to concentrate on his solo work and other projects such as Hair Police. His replacement, ‘Crazy’ Jim Baljo, is apparently a more ‘musical’ presence than the Failing Lights man, but No Answer: Lower Floors retains that unique flavour that makes Wolf Eyes what they are, even if it is decidedly less abrasive and mean-sounding than, say, 2006’s Human Animal.

Much of this continuity can be put down to the fact that, whilst Dilloway and Connelly may have left the fold, they remain firmly entrenched in the band’s inner circle and both contribute to No Answer: Lower Floors, whilst the other two members, founder Nate Young and long-standing sax/electronics player John Olson, have also had numerous side-projects and solo offerings, notably their Stare Case duo, Young’s work in Demons, and his recent Regression series of releases. All of these various sonic offerings percolate into No Answer: Lower Floors, making it a sonic melting pot that paradoxically is one of the most cohesive-sounding albums the band has ever put out, tracing clear lines back into the band’s history, as well as that of noise music itself. No Answer: Lower Floors is a strong retort to anyone who thinks that notions of regression automatically discount the possibility of progress. If Nate Young has made regression his calling card, he and his two partners excel at using that process to move forwards. Back to the future, if you will, notably via the dank futuristic electronic music of Cabaret Voltaire.

I don’t mean the harsh disco Cabaret Voltaire of ‘Yashar’, or even the robotic goth-funk of Three Mantras, but rather the spectral, minimalist industrial grind of Mix-Up and Voice of America. ‘Choking Files’ and the almost punchy ‘Born Liar’, for example, immediately evoke classic early-period Cabs tracks like ‘Kirlian Photograph’ and ‘The Voice of America/Damage is Done’, reminding us both that Cabaret Voltaire are as important to industrial music as, say, Throbbing Gristle, and also that there has always been a sense of melody underpinning Wolf Eyes’ angry noise. These are songs, or as close as noise gets to that craft, and the elegance and intelligence with which they’re crafted is impressive. Baljo’s guitar is brittle and buzzing, melded into the electronics to produce clouds of billowing, saturated drone. The Cabaret Voltaire comparison is apparent in the way drum machine beats heave and wooze underneath the gristle and grit, as fitful and sickly as on the Sheffield band’s cover of The Velvet Underground’s ‘Here She Comes Now’, whilst Nate Young’s distant, disconnected vocals have haunting traces of Stephen Mallinder in his belligerent pomp. Where the two bands differ significantly is that, whilst The Cabs encouraged dancing -albeit somewhat perversely- at their gigs, and dropped driving post-punk pounders like ‘No Escape’ and ‘Nag, Nag, Nag’ among their grittier pieces, Wolf Eyes make no such concessions to easy listening. No Answer: Lower Floors may be more tune-based than previous offerings, but it still overflows with currents of unease and moments when the culmination of shadowy vocalisations and unsettling mood noise draw from the imagery of low-budget horror flicks, much like the Regression albums and the creepier moments of Connelly’s Failing Lights.

Beyond the subtle stylistic shifts and nods to industrial tradition (the lengthy ‘Confession Of The Informer’, dominated by uneasy silences, unintelligible vocal snippets and surging synth and sax wheezes, immediately brings to mind TG’s ‘Hamburger Lady’, only with the lyrics reduced to ghostly abstraction), it’s the cohesion of Wolf Eyes’ vision that impresses on No Answer: Lower Floors. Shades of Stare Case’s dismembered blues and Nate Young’s solo synth mauling traverse the album, even as it stretches into new areas. It may not be as brutal as Human Animal or Burned Mind, but it is as unsettling as those two landmarks, and just as clearly part of the Wolf Eyes universe, one that gets more peculiar and potent with every passing year.

Wolf Eyes “Choking Files” from De Stijl Records on Vimeo.

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