Fuck Buttons
Slow Focus ATP http://www.tinymixtapes.com/sites/default/files/1307/Slow Focus.png

[ATP; 2013]

Rating: 2/5 2 / 5 (0)

Styles: auditory novocaine
Others: vacuum cleaners, construction sites, audiac


http://media.tinymixtapes.com/

As a lover and critic of music (in that order), my immediate response to a new piece is typically immersive, visceral, emotional, and unmediated by outside sources — the experience involves only myself and the music; the only intertexts are those transparently included by the artists and those implanted by my past and present personal experience — and from there I expand the music’s context and begin developing a more intellectual, encompassing, and critical understanding. It is strange, then, that my experience with Benjamin Power and Andrew Hung’s third album as Fuck Buttons, Slow Focus, an LP that will certainly be described as “immediate,” “visceral,” and “immersive,” leapfrogged my usual first response to new music, and I began my experience at a distance that was mediated by a single text: Marshall McLuhan’s seminal essay, “The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis,” informed my every reaction to the point that, for me, Slow Focus does not exist outside of the context of “The Gadget Lover.” Ideally, I would copy and paste the entire essay here, leave you to connect the dots, and take the week off — being unmoved by the album in any personal way, the motivation to comment on this connection is decidedly lacking — but if sterility is part of my critique, then I suppose lines are as sterile as dots and drawing them should contribute to my criticism. The following is a sequence of dots and dashes, a commentary on distancing communicated through Morse Code.


“Physiologically there are abundant reasons for an extension of ourselves involving us in a state of numbness. Medical researchers like Hans Selye and Adolphe Jonas hold that all extensions of ourselves, in sickness or in health, are attempts to maintain equilibrium. Any extension of ourselves they regard as “autoamputation,” and they find that the autoamputative power or strategy is resorted to by the body when the perceptual power cannot locate or avoid the cause of irritation. […] While it was no part of the intention of Jonas and Selye to provide an explanation of human invention and technology, they have given us a theory of disease (discomfort) that goes far to explain why man is impelled to extend various parts of his body by a kind of autoamputation. In the physical stress of superstimulation of various kinds, the central nervous system acts to protect itself by a strategy of amputation or isolation of the offending organ, sense, or function.”

If Slow Focus is an extension of one’s self, it would be our socialized investment in the idea of a “something bigger than ourselves,” the part of our ego that can’t abandon thinking in terms of universal merit and truth. It appeals to latent theological and modern ways of knowing that find comfort in the hierarchy of high and low, whether it be in terms of beings or brows, but more than a comfort, it’s a numbing. In terms of autoamputation, this numbing implies a hidden irritant: in order to prescribe to this way of knowing, a pinched awareness becomes necessary, and the nagging of the hermeneutics of suspicion leaves one subconsciously plagued by the potential, but as of yet invisible, fallacy hidden beneath the surface of widescreen truism. There’s a mistrust of any big, broad, and climacteric statement or superstimulation that we self-amputate in order to enjoy and accept it; the result is a general anesthetizing of perception that can be observed while listening to Slow Focus’s longer tracks, and especially during the concluding and lengthy tracks, “Stalker” and “Hidden XS.”

“Battle shock created by violent noise has been adapted for dental use in the device known as audiac. The patient puts on headphones and turns a dial raising the noise level to the point that he feels no pain from the drill. The selection of a single sense for intense stimulus, or of a single extended, isolated, or “amputated” sense in technology, is in part the reason for the numbing effect that technology as such has on its makers and users. For the central nervous system rallies a response of general numbness to the challenge of specialized irritation.”

Intensity has become the popular musical currency in 2013; some spend it more wisely than others. But what differs this year’s masterpieces of intensity (Pharmakon’s Abandon) from its bloated failures (Deafheaven’s Sunbather)? The answer seems to lie in concision: Abandon’s short 27 minutes of precise sonic control never allows your mind to pacify its relation to it — there’s a lifetime worth of discomfort in that album that is given room to breath, settle, and realize — while Sunbather’s hour feels more like pillow than pain. The concept of intensity’s close relationship to concision and precision explains why Slow Focus’s most captivating tracks are its shortest ones. In terms of McLuhan’s example, then, Slow Focus’ endless onslaught of white noise is the audiac, while Abandon’s consistently terrifying simulacrum is the drill itself. The relation to technology is essential as well, for Fuck Buttons’ intense overstimulation mimics our interaction with the hypertextual environments of our proliferating electronic devices; and like hours spent on these devices, the initial excitement of tracks like “The Red Wing” and “Sentients” quickly gives way to the numbing boredom of cultivation and consumption.

[A personal anecdote: the sounds of vacuum cleaners and construction site, like a sonic laudanum, helped me sleep when I was a child. Slow Focus would have put me right to sleep; Abandon would have kept me up for weeks.]

“It is with the senses as it is with color. Sensation is always 100 per cent, and a color is always 100 per cent color. But the ratio among the components in the sensation or the color can differ infinitely. Yet if sound, for example, is intensified, touch and taste and sight are affected at once.”

It’s curious how the first and last words on the album’s tracklist create an arch that define the album’s impact: From “Brainfreeze” to “XS,” Slow Focus leaves your mind numb from the excess. In my experience, this impact manifested physically, where a palpable numbing of visual and tactile sensation took precedence over the music itself. For all the time spent discussing the whole “music is like drugs” thing, it is rare that the effect is compared to that of painkillers: while I’ve had my fair share of euphoric and transcendental experience as a result of music, Slow Focus is not that type of drug; Fuck Buttons have created an aural ibuprofen, an auditory Novocaine. We all have our drug of choice, but personally, I don’t seek numbness when I turn to music.

“Physiologically, man in the normal use of technology (or his variously extended body) is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds ever new ways of modifying his technology. Man becomes, as it were, the sex organs of the machine world, as the bee of the plant world, enabling it to fecundate and to evolve ever new forms. The machine world reciprocates man’s love by expediting his wishes and desires…”

Fuck Buttons’ relationship to technology is manifest in their music: they only sound as “new” as the “newness” of their technology allows them. If Slow Focus is an example of this intercourse, then the machine has begun feeding back on Benjamin Power and Andrew Hung, their returned desires being expedited to them so quickly that they end up with a consistent reflection of their wishes. The unfortunate side-effect of this consistency is that their reproductions are born without dynamics and discovery. Essentially, they become the interface for their technology, as passive as they render their listeners.

Sex organs of the machine world? “Fuck Buttons,” indeed.


By the time this gets published, I’m certain the adjective “monolithic” will have been completely exhausted in describing this album. I get it. I posit, though, that this is accidentally backhanded praise. This album is one hefty chunk of waveform, no doubt — in fact, a lot of these tracks are so unceasing that they would look a lot like horizontal monoliths were they uploaded to SoundCloud — but does that really make it praiseworthy? A monolith is inherently unremarkable when removed from its context, so what about Fuck Buttons’ context makes this work interesting? Is the idea of artistic solidity and solidarity even appealing anymore? We live in a polylithic, polymathic, and polyperspective era; our foundation is made of proliferating singularities, not a singular idolatry. This album, much like a typical monolithic structure, is designed to be a relic, designed to be somehow outside and above discourse, designed to tower over its observers. Unfortunately, if you’re like me and don’t trust the foundations of towering relics, then you probably won’t want to be subjected to its shadow for very long — if at all.

01. Brainfreeze
02. Year of the Dog
03. The Red Wing
04. Sentients
05. Prince’s Prize
06. Stalker
07. Hidden XS

Links: Fuck Buttons - ATP


TMT IS SEEKING MUSIC REVIEWERS

Click here to apply