In theory, The Whys of Fire, the 2003 Ecstatic Yod release from Dredd Foole and The Din, should stand out on a level which far transcends the other detritus that has been the result of the current noise-rock zeitgeist. An overlooked album that somehow fell through the cracks upon its initial release, the record features fretwork from Thurston Moore, percussion by avant-garde drummer Chris Corsano, and additional backing from Patrick Best, Mike Gangloff, and Jack Rose of psych-drone outfit Pelt. To add even further depth of intrigue to the album, The Whys of Fire was produced and mastered by Jim O'Rourke. In execution, however, the record merely possesses the necessary components to enable it to appeal to the existing constituency of noise-rock aficionados, while at the same time maintaining a somewhat trite, lackluster quality that will prevent its reaching out to a broader audience. Granted, the record is a 2003 release, which, while also taking into consideration the group's collective pedigree, makes it something of a forebear in a genre currently populated by the likes of Wolf Eyes, Black Dice, and Dead Machines. Nonetheless, the record pales in comparison to the more significant experimental indie rock releases of late.
Ostensibly, the recording is a band effort fronted by vocalist Dan Ireton, a.k.a. Dredd Foole. The Din are a constantly changing lineup that have backed the music of Dredd Foole since the early 1980s (the original Din were none other than Boston's own Mission of Burma, who backed Dredd Foole on his 1982 seven inch debut). Apparently Dredd Foole and The Din, until the late 1980s, played a variety of post-punk-influenced garage rock that adhered to a more traditional song structure and commanded a significant following. Admittedly, The Whys of Fire is this reviewer's introduction to the work of Dredd Foole and The Din, and because of my lack of exposure to the band, I approached this album with mixed expectations.
The Whys of Fire is primarily notable in that, despite its considerably large band lineup, it sounds very little like a cohesive group effort. The sole fact that Moore, Corsano, and O'Rourke were involved in the recording of this album should, naturally, indicate that the record is inclined toward the more experimental regions of the indie rock spectrum. Make no mistake: The Whys of Fire is an unquestionably experimental release that demonstrates precious little in the way of lyrics or conventional musical forms. The record features six interminable tracks of dense, atonal guitar squall. Vocals, drums, and any other incidental backing instrumentation are buried way (let me repeat: WAY) down in the mix. With the exception of the repeated "He's So Cool!!!" of the album's final track, "Little Johnny" (which is without a doubt the closest thing to a "song" to be found here), Ireton's lyrics are almost entirely incomprehensible and constitute, in essence, little more than an eerie howling and wailing that is relegated staunchly to the background. Running commentary on a track-by-track basis would be a fairly superfluous effort in this case.
As regards experimental, free-form guitar rock, all of the usual techniques are to be found on The Whys of Fire: heavy feedback; dense bursts of overlapping, overdriven guitar skronk; extraordinarily liberal use of reverb; bowed and scraped guitar strings; prepared and treated instruments; etc. The guitar is pushed to the forefront throughout the album's entirety, in fact. Corsano's drumming (similarly to Ireton's vocals) is mixed in such a way as to render the listener unable to discreetly isolate it from the rest of the din (no pun intended). To complicate matters, the record's six tracks are each extremely long and uniform in their own right. Thus, the album's length, coupled with the stunning heterogeneity of the album in toto, makes The Whys of Fire a difficult, trying record to listen to in its entirety, much less repeatedly. Connoisseurs of harsh and experimental improvised guitar music will lap this release up; but for the rest of us, it comes off, unfortunately, as a novelty item that was recorded (to be fair, it is, technically, a live recording) without a tremendous deal of forethought.
1. Dutch Instant
2. Hard Rock (Absolution)
3. That's it for Pressed Rat
4. The Perfect Smile
5. Ramayana in H
6. Little Johnny