When I listen to LA-based feedback-sculptor Damion Romero’s latest slab, I can’t figure out whether I’m hearing tones blossom or decay. There’s a warm analog undercurrent running through Negative’s half-hour sheets-of-sound onslaught: the scathing amp blasts assume a mesmeric, tamboura-like quality, clean Frippertronic beds hum steadily, and crackling sounds (a fireplace? a beat-up LP?) frame everything. Played loud enough, Negative will melt your brain into a Gerber-y mush, but at a reasonable volume, it’s an engaging, layered work.
You’ve got to grant Romero the right to establish stasis as a valid aesthetic goal if you’re going to enjoy this disc, though. Negative doesn’t really “go” anywhere, even as its tones refract and modulate. And the packaging doesn’t tell us why the music is so static – there’s no written mission statement, and the cover – a mangled car falling to the ground – is quite dynamic. So many of us will be quick to chide Romero for producing art that lacks a direction and a purpose. Don’t be so quick to do that: instead admire just how fully Romero has disentangled his music from conceptualism. With no intelligible formal conceits buttressing it and no high-minded theories stated plainly, Negative can only be grasped through listening. It doesn’t conform to a set of conventions, and it doesn’t level a philosophical argument that can be restated in prose. It is instead of-the-moment, visceral, almost entirely beyond language. And if you’re the type who bemoans what the internet has done to music – the way MP3s have supplanted CDs, the fact that one can gain access to any musical subculture imaginable without undergoing said subculture’s on-site initiation rites, the idea that MySpace is allowing more artists to sign contracts on the strength of their recordings rather than their reputations as live acts – then you should appreciate Romero’s suggestion that being-there-is-the-only-mode-of-being. And if you’re not that type, then just mark this album down as another of noise rock’s rockist fouls.