Perdition Hill Radio is the soundtrack for going under. The other channels on the radio dial have completely vanished into the void with almost everything else, and now there’s nothing left but the doomful fuzz that sparkles with relentless satanic heat as the vessel pushes further into the desolate Southwest corridor. “The Hour of Red Glare” presents a world on fire. Explosive blasts shoot up out of the Earth, screeching in agony, while the dying machines and collapsing structures grind against each other until they leave behind nothing but dust and smoke. “Grave Robbing In Texas” begins with the soothing sound of oil fields ablaze in white noise, and represents the down-going movement as our hero shovels aside heavy dirt and layers of soot to dip his hands into the mystery-laden tombs for decaying treasures.
William Fowler Collins is making maps as much as he is making music. While the piece as a whole is a road album that takes us deeper into an endless desert night apocalypse, “Dark Country Road” especially shows Collins building his nightmare world with sound. A blurry blues guitar-slide opens up the track and establishes an early Americana mood that is eventually pulverized under industrial scrapes and flesh-eating-insect-inspired atmospherics. Throughout the almost 22-minute journey, one can see the Lost Highway-esque headlights barreling along a bleak dirt road, insect guts splattered on the window, the occasional movement of predators in the shadows. The traditional Americana aesthetic attempts to sneak its way back into the track, but is constantly overpowered by the dark hum, perhaps representing the loss of North America’s cultural foundations, as it plunges further into destructiveness and horror.
“On Perdition Hill” drones its way to the ghoulish summit, providing only a moment of calm before plunging once more into the breach of “Slow Motion Prayer Circle.” One can vaguely make out the sound of religious chants under the fuzz, and if the track were sped up, it might take on a more familiar form. The creeping slowness, though, shows how the materiality of the popular conception of time is dependent upon the presence of its corresponding historical and cultural world. With the death of that world, time moves differently, more slowly, since there is no longer any use for it.
“The Ghosts of Eden Trail” is a momentary homage that ends the wrecking journey of Perdition Hill Radio — a tribute to the cherished pioneers of a once ambitious cultural world, who failed to realize that their own creation would eventually become the monster that it is. Collins asks us to think of the all-consuming sprawl of decay that pushed, and still pushes, further into the West. He asks us to see the nightmare-world that is concealed by the myth of progress and expansion.
Despite the recent popularity of the dangerous political discourse of hope, the dystopian imagery presents itself as a more timely critique of the present historical moment. Underneath the hopeful rhetoric of economic renewal, cosmopolitan responsibility, multiculturalism, and so on, sits the more pressing but concealed problems of general destructiveness and meaninglessness. The popular solution is for those previously excluded to step out into a more welcoming public world and to fill up new spaces within the old machinery — to breathe life into the old values in such a way that they realize themselves rather than remain empty shells and mere ideas. In contrast, the unpopular solution is uncertain of how to be a solution, but this seeming paradox is also its greatest asset. Instead, it plunges into the darkest depths of our historical consciousness, our cultural world and its values, and patiently spelunks. This “solution” knows that the formulation of a real solution depends upon a complete embrace of the possibility of total horror. Perdition Hill Radio is a critique of the latter sort in that it ventures into the wasteland of the present in order to reveal the reality of terror, rather than paint temporary rainbows over it. For this reason, William Fowler Collins has created a timely album that must, then, appear untimely.
1. The Hour of Red Glare
2. Grave Robbing In Texas
3. Dark Country Road
4. On Perdition Hill
5. Slow Motion Prayer Circle
6. The Ghosts of Eden Trail