Don’t think of a pink elephant. You don’t want to end up like Keiji Haino, Jim O’Rourke, and Oren Ambarchi, who across four previous collaborations and over the course of another crystalline recording of another untamed performance at Tokyo’s SuperDeluxe, have embodied ironic process theory in their intention and striving to rupture themselves from all intention and striving. Yes, we all love our quixotic heroes, who for a moment appear to splinter the domination of the repressive and the injurious, but their latest — Only Wanting to Melt Beautifully Away Is It A Lack of Contentment That Stirs Affection for Those Things Said to Be As of Yet Unseen — in its single-track tranquility and extremism, is far too focused, far too purposive and militant, to achieve its purported aim of melting itself and its authors away. Sure, the initial 15 minutes are a scattered ripple of O’Rourke’s 12-string, Haino’s dulcimer-esque kantele, and Ambarchi’s measured symbol-work; and sure, there’s an untrammeled peace and lightness to its fluttering decentralization. However, once this benign overture is cracked by the ungodly swirls of Haino’s synthesizer, things begin to take a turn for the teleological, introducing all the desire, ambition, purpose, and egocentrism that such a loaded term suggests — that is, introducing all the selfishness that contradicts the objective of evaporating into a mist of selflessness.
It’s as if by concentrating themselves on the task of self-annihilation, Haino, O’Rourke, and Ambarchi only harden and reinforce the very consciousness they hope to unravel. Accordingly, the cry of Haino’s synth reaches a point of all-consuming definition at the 22-minute mark, emerging from the primordial soup of buzzing oscillation and shuffling percussion to calcify into a maddeningly jarring pitch that in its overwhelming intensity couldn’t be further from the blissed cloud it arguably hopes to attain. Maybe the trio realize the futility of their paradoxical efforts, and maybe the performance could even be read as a comment on the perennial fallacy of identifying art with dissolution and escape, an error that arises from the that fact “art” is not simply a set of objects in the formal blankness of which we can “lose ourselves,” but an institution that welds such objects to social processes and hierarchies, another extension of human communication and social positioning. As such, the endeavor to escape the often squalid pettiness of social positioning by engaging in the squalid pettiness of social positioning is only going to result in exasperation and self-defeat, regardless of how savagely majestic your rendition of this tedious ballet is, and so it comes as little surprise that the ascendant and keening electronic tones of Haino’s new weapon collapse under their own scorched weight, erased by an underlying drone and then replaced by the kind of placid chord-clusters that initiated the record.
From here, Haino’s braying tonsils punctuate the drift of O’Rourke’s plucking with flourishes that range from the serene to the incensed, while O’Rourke’s playing itself becomes increasingly fractured and jittery. Together, their combined restlessness acts as a move away from the composition’s formerly purposive direction and toward an unceasing, fatalistic hail of negations, this lapse ramified by an eruption of artificial dissonance that verges on the blinding. In its irrational shifts and undulations, this unstructured torrent cancels itself out from one bar to another, pessimistically responding to the impossibility of a meaningful release from meaning by descending into an unmitigated stream of constant destruction and denial. As harrowingly violent and turbulent as it is, it suggests in the end that to Melt Beautifully Away is not to enter into the contentment or gratifications of a new realm, but simply to mortify and punish yourself for an impotent failure to acquire anything of worth within an old one. It’s to suicidally destroy what little you had to begin with, and even though it’s undoubtedly a revelation to hear Haino, O’Rourke, and Ambarchi substitute their usual, guitar-heavy framework with one that exploits synthesizers and electronics to similarly excoriating effect, it’s this destructiveness packaged as liberation, as well as the album’s abovementioned self-contradictions and cancellations, that might potentially unsettle the overconscientious. Then again, it might destroy you before such a qualm even has a chance to register.