Earlier this year, on Wolf Eyes’ sleeper No Answer: Lower Floors, the sea change that has washed over the nightmarish industrial noise band became apparent in its restraint and clarity, with members often choosing emptiness over darkness and care over raw fury. Nate Young’s newest full-length in his Regression series pushes this change even further, exploring the void not as an almost comically terrifying slasher villain, but as a denizen seeking to build within it. Blinding Confusion is perhaps the most understated release in the veteran noisemaker’s catalog. Its nuanced structures and wandering pace may puzzle those who once fist pumped to the industrial stomp of early Wolf Eyes, but after a few listens, a new logic reveals itself. At moments, we might even call it beautiful.
At moments. Discomfort at the off-kilter mesh of rhythms and the extreme modulation on the synth lines pervades Blinding Confusion. There’s no eardrum-busting static and no throbbing basslines, but some of the treble tones may cause a cringe or a twitch. Where Wolf Eyes formerly worked in extreme horror and violence, Young’s recent work feels more Lynchian, the horror buried underneath saccharine synth lines, walking chromatic bass notes, and slide whistle-like trills — a slab of crumbling drywall held together by yellowing beige wallpaper, concealing beneath it a nest of roaches, a dead rat, and wiring that’s a surge away from an electrical fire. Someone has left the radio on a dead channel and left the room on purpose just to fuck with you.
For some time, Young has been working with his Sequential Circuits Pro One (among many other devices), and his experience in tweaking it has yielded a mastery of its textural possibilities, from the acrid treble swells on opener “Forever Day” to the rolling undercurrents on “The Bastards Gums.” Against the backdrop of today’s massive hardware synths, modular crack dens, and endless software options, the Pro One might seem tiny and limiting, but it’s precisely these limits that allow Young to squeeze out its potential. The unique, slightly abrasive sound of its filter creates a sort of textural leitmotif across Blinding Confusion. Its single voice ensures a predominance of negative space; even when heavily layered, it rarely fills the whole track with a wall of sound.
This quality is perhaps the most crucial to explaining the sound of Young’s recent work. Each line, each lead or rhythm track seem to balance on the void of silence, each texture preserving in its hollowness the empty space that would exist there without it. Blinding Confusion’s languorous melodies hang on the blank tape, tetherless despite their clear position within the structure of the piece. Each song, despite being “musical,” feels ready to fall apart at the seams and dissipate into the nether region from whence it came. The disparate elements add up to a complete piece, but only by virtue of their juxtaposition, winding within one another or piling upon the stable but jury-rigged foundation; but it’s not so much that Young is an amateur or lazy architect as he is consciously designing songs that seem ready to crumble with one false note. Really, it’s flexible structures that are the most stable, and the wider the tonal matrix, the more likely each part will fall into place within it.
Whereas in the past, with Wolf Eyes or other projects, Young burned rulebooks and mic’d the remains for a sound source, he has now embraced the possibilities of musicality. Blinding Confusion retains his irreverence, but the disobedience is cloaked behind the performance of staying in the lines. Despite the album’s drooping mood, there is something exciting about experimental musicians recovering the laws they once tried to destroy. Now no longer content to merely stumble into the shocking or the glorious, they might sculpt it consciously, using the same techniques and equipment but with different structures in mind. It’s this conscious process that separates Blinding Confusion and the rest of Young’s recent work from his more violent early works. Here, he is a creator, not a destroyer.