Ever taken a lot of speed and stared at the sun for half an hour until the cells of your corneas cracked? This is what listening to Guilt Mirrors can do to a person. It’s happening right before and behind your eyes, and it’s too big and horrible and painful to really get to grips with straightaway. You have to talk around it. This is as immune to description as the sun. It starts with thick, gluggy fuzz over a dispirited drum beat and ends 160 minutes later after 11 minutes of thick, deformed drone, gossamer put through a threshing machine. Harte’s voice surfaces for about four seconds in the middle of that song, and it’s not a cry for help. It just hangs there, uncertain of whether it wants to stay and less sure about whether it’s possible to get out.
There’s a DFW story that involves a pair of parents frantically trying to cool a burned child’s wounds before realizing they’ve been looking in the wrong place for them. You won’t find what it is that’s eating Nick Harte here, because this whole triple album is a miasma of haze, of feelings chewing one another to shreds, until nothing but the sensation of disorder survives. This isn’t a labor of love — that’s your dad’s homemade weekend bird-feeder — it’s a document of obsession, of trying to pull things out, a reminder that sincerity in the absolute has to border on the unintelligible. This is some Artaud shit, Xiu Xiu for people who can’t even get the words out, all grisly and uncomfortable, sprawling, album as fingerprint. The fact that it’s alienating, strange, impossible to get through and occasionally radically boring isn’t a slight, because that’s not the point. It’s too much and too real and too close and too far away.
Oscillating between post-DFA disco, confessional major key balladry, and haze, Nick Harte paints a pretty comprehensive image of what it is to be completely washed up and washed out. While his last record (seven long years ago) casually-not-casually tossed out lines like “I’d rather be your retard/ Than to be your motherfucking dad,” this is a long new low. “Out Of Town Girl” gradually becomes a suicide note, and it wraps a hand around you like a vice. “Hospital Garden” sounds like a version of Dominick Fernow I can actually be bothered with, like Fernow invading an M83 song — don’t get me started on M83, jesus christ — and that’s why it’s great. “St. Louis” has his ex-girlfriend sing heartbreakingly about hoping life is worthwhile. “Motel” is Elton John weeping over a broken leg by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere in Minnesota. I’m trying to tell you that all of this barely makes sense separately, and three albums of it together is like a traumatic event that leaves such an ineffable mark on you that you find yourself describing it completely differently every time you speak of it, which is often.
But you have to take it in toto, and the key here is that Guilt Mirrors is essentially a piece of emotional ambience, Erik Satie with manic depression and Tumblr friends, rolling out blunt-thick blank major chords and dissolving into them. Harte obscures himself by singing low (“Never let those fuckers tell you what to do/ It’s only sentimental and nothing true”) and then subverting whatever he confesses to 10 minutes of drone or aggressively sad techno. Like, Shocking Pinks is not a project afraid to bleed, to show something, to press their tongue up against the keyhole and hump the doorknob, even if they don’t want to be let in, or know where they are, or know what’s wrong. This is a thick slab of pain. Is this vague? This album is vague. I’m climbing up a mountain with my teeth here. But there’s a moral in it that’s external to the music, as like, say, SM 2: Ayisha Abyss (which I found abhorrent and violent on the first two dozen listens), a reminder that there are hype artists and there are artists. And if this is a failure, it’s not one on the terms Harte lays out, and I don’t get the feeling here like this record was made for anyone else whatsoever, so it’s hard to know where to look between the moments of superlatively resigned beauty (“Chorus Girls,” delicately forlorn “therearenorivershere,” etc.), the confusing ejaculations of I don’t even know what (“Hardfuck”), and the time he decided to invite a friend over to sing over a long piece of nothing for no reason (“LS VS SX”). All I know is that looking at this for too long hurts.