Much like the infinite Abyss that came before it, Busman’s Holiday makes a mockery of its listener. With at least as much brutality, it defies us to find a semblance of meaning in its blinding cataracts of noise, to find any remnant or trace of the very things — identity, self, narrative, community, validation — that we usually go to music to find. Rather than pander to our expectations, it drowns us in their refutation, in an unrelenting gush of digital terrorism and ambient nihilism that doesn’t simply disabuse us of former illusions, but exposes the abuse they’ve rendered to us by embodying their inverted, mirror image.
In fact, “listener” is a term Busman’s Holiday might not indulge or recognize. More focused and streamlined than the monumental Abyss, the album nonetheless witnesses a Kevin Drumm and Jason Lescalleet who’ve almost perfectly synergized the art of subjecting their audience to their sound, rather than allowing their sound to be subjected to their audience. Massive, unyielding tirades like “The Hunt” seem expressly designed to frustrate integration into a human scheme of things, what with their tireless streams of radiator buzzing that go on and on, hardly ever amenable to concepts of form, structure, harmony, and melody, not to mention time and space.
But in eschewing quaint notions of time and space, such immutable and violent drones as “Powerless” also eschew quaint notions of human freedom and autonomy. The disquieting constancy of its organs refuse the “listener” the kind of articulations, progressions, and modulations we ordinarily want from our music. In so doing, they refuse us the delusional confirmation that pop music so profitably gifts the world, the naive impression that, because the choruses and crescendos of our favorite songs follow our wishes and expectations, we are somehow in control of them.
Well, in “The Wait” and “Belligerence,” there is no control, only the horrible conviction of impotence and incomprehension. Their streams of heavy air, incidental echoes, and ominous churning deprive us of any definite marker or cue that would give us a foothold in their suspended bottomless pits, that would enable us to improvise, not just a particular sense of our own direction and movement, but the reassurance that such things as direction and movement exist in life. Yet more than withdrawing the role music often plays in reassuring us about such things, they and their total abandon undermine the idea that music reassures us about anything at all. In their turbulent static, there’s only the volatile yet unwavering sound of electrical disturbance, the rootless din of everything being swept away at once, including the idea that music is an escape that grants our hopes and dreams vital relief. Instead, in ridiculing the popular myth that music is a holiday for our tired ears, the formless turmoil of Busman’s Holiday reiterates the disturbing possibility that it signifies nothing whatsoever, that it has become some kind of nightmarish Derridean supplement, effacing the very life it’s meant to signify.