(Post-)industrial modernity manufactures rejects, biological and mechanical; an appropriate way to set the scene for Tearist’s Living: 2009 — Present is by imagining the former, alienated interior exiles, performing Lovecraftian rituals propitiating the latter, hulking, rusting assembly-line machines, in the desolate badlands that form industry’s morning-after.
Speaking of topography, as if ‘witch house’ wasn’t already obtuse enough a genre (and we all know how genres with cute names are likely to fare in critics’ imaginations, no matter how many rather good bands are actually associated with them: let the decline and fall of chillwave be a salutary lesson), I’d like to suggest that we consider Tearist ‘swamp synth.’ This is not so much to say that their music is all about drinking bourbon, riding the highway, and Creedence Clearwater Revival covers as to look at their similarities (apart from the synthesizer thing) to groups like The Gun Club and, most particularly, Lydia Lunch’s 8-Eyed Spy. The murky repetitive beats, depressive rebelliousness, and abject apocalyptic energy of their music bears clear affinities to iconic synthpunks like Nervous Gender, but where it differs — where it introduces the inundated quality of the morass (“nine parts water/one part sand”) — is in the pace and the quality of the energy. In other words, if we were to slow and throw synthpunk nihilism, transforming it into a species of atavistic malfunction, Tearist would be far from an unimaginable result.
The decision to release an album of live tracks solely on the back of a CD-R and a 12-inch may seem odd, and at first, as for the most part a critic of the live album as a form, I was somewhat incredulous, but the setting in fact seems to capture something fundamental regarding Tearist’s raison d’être. Compared to the thin (tinny?) sound of their studio material, there is a satisfying envelopingness to the sonic experience here — taking lo-fi to its logical conclusion — and a mutedly gorgeous unfolding over repeated listens of recognizable themes and melodies from what at first seems an amorphous, atonal mass of fuzzy beats and indecipherable lyrics (those I can decrypt seem to have a preponderant interest in traumatized corporeality: “You left this bullet in my body/ …And now I’m helpless”). One is also reminded of the un/welcome physicality of the small-scale performance, the odor of sweat and stale beer, the texture of faded ripped black tees, the brush of unfamiliar skin, the slight drug haziness at the edges of vision, the music barely recognizable to the eardrums for over-amplification, the strained voices of both performers and crowd. Or, as Mark Seltzer puts it in his work on wound culture, “The crowd gathered around the fallen body, the wrecked machine, and the wound has become a commonplace in our culture.”
Here the surveillor(-cum-surveillee) is the double figure of Poe’s “Man of the Crowd,” embodying simultaneously the pathological individual who can be so only within the urban throng, and the deindividuated, ‘typical’ subject created by the statistical, mechanized repetition of mass culture (in this case, the repetition of the ‘metal beat’). The live-ness of the album itself is synthetic, in that performances and ambient crowd interludes have been reassembled in order to create an apparent whole that, in its very facade as such, becomes its homonym — and this hall-of-mirrors ambiguity is redoubled in Tearist’s own reading of their work as concerned with Romantic truth, with art as the authentic expression of the dark interior of the psyche.
Appropriately, then, a mutant relationship obtains that fuses Ballard and Cronenberg in the liminal space between metallic architectures — or exoskeletons — and the disgusting erotics of biological humanity (and in thinking of Tearism as terrorism in a blurred American accent, we can’t help but envision the screen-mediated impact of metal on flesh). Indeed, Tearist’s hoarse-voiced Yasmine Kittles (who also works with Former Ghosts) performs not only vocals but ‘scrap metal scraping.’ In interviews, Kittles has referenced Artaud, and one doesn’t feel that the Theatre of Cruelty is an inappropriate reference point. As with the classic No Wavers, from Lunch through to DNA and Mars, one vicariously experiences a sense of id-riddenness, of “instinctual cathexes seeking [and finding] discharge.” The period from which these recordings are taken is described as ‘formative,’ and we can understand that in every sense of the word. In titling the album Living, Tearist both point to (developmental) process, not to outcome — the estrangements of bureaucratic means-ends logic in which the rationality of procedure becomes the only standard by which morality can be assessed — and also indicate the way in which, by definition, dying haunts the moment-by-moment experience of embodied being: et in arcadia ego, or, as Seltzer has it, “Death is the theatre for the living” — and a cruel theatre it is.
But given that this is where we (post)moderns find our selves — that the problematics of identity center around both the disavowal of unbearable physicality and the mediated pornographics of virtual transcendence and fetishized self-(de)construction — to have representations of these conditions thrust in our face(s) in all their penetrative rawness is a paradigmatic experience of jouissance.