Noise was born of violence: violence against the ear, against the self, against genre, against social mores and the boundaries of taste, perhaps against music itself (the list goes on). In combining the acidic aesthetics of the avant-garde with the cultural corrosion of punk and industrial, harsh noise produced a potent salt for those with open wounds. What the progenitors depicted was a violence that transcended and preserved the violence inherent in both culture and being a brain in a body.
Wolf Eyes are no strangers to this theme. A cursory look at album titles should suffice: Slicer, Burned Mind, Human Animal. But as time passes, even transcendence erodes under the chemical bath. No Answer: Lower Floors exists in the empty subbasement below that transcendence. In subverting the techniques of older work, it ends up depicting something much more tangible and real, while still holding on to the dread that runs through their catalog.
Where past records pierced or bludgeoned, No Answer: Lower Floors seethes. It doesn’t assault; it worms its way in past your usual defenses. Its vocals are not shrieks of horror, but a monotone that splits into two voices, acting in both sides of the stereo field so as to enter twice into each ear. Perhaps the most frequently cited characteristic of Burned Mind was the “stabbing” bass lines. Here, however, the bass is yet another paranoid thought in a mass of delusions. It’s not so much phantasmagoria as the onset of anxiety, the tension that swells in the muscles of your shoulders when the merest uncertainties have built into an overwhelming possibility.
No Answer: Lower Floors in this way feels like Wolf Eyes’ most honest work to date. While the lyrical content might discuss themes of madness and transcendence on “Choking Flies” (“Lose your mind on an empty street/ Empty minds please stay asleep”), it’s the delivery that contains humanity. The relaxed tone renders the lyrics into casual idioms, containing only a suggestion of their former violence. Behind them groan the off-kilter but locked-in rhythms of the electronics and the atmospheric tremble of new member James Baljo’s guitar. “Chattering Lead” and “Confession of the Informer” showcase Wolf Eyes’ polished skills in these arenas. Each return of bass or synth line constructs a foreboding mood without the use of the more facile tactics of crescendo or sheer sonic battery.
It’s the understated clarity and sense of purpose that makes the atypical developments of No Answer: Lower Floors’ tracks readable. Each entrance of sax and guitar feels correct but not formulaic. There are few surprises, but each element finds its own breathing room such that the layered space of each track is fully audible. There is enough going on that no track gets tired, except for perhaps the last, “Warning Sign,” which feels like an endurance trial, not because of its violence, but because its primary element is a sound that signals the approach of violence, approximating a siren without the familiarity of the local cops. It’s the last warning that the inexplicable object of anxiety approaches. It looks different from what you’ve come to expect. No beast slouches this way. Dread is a feedback loop. What hangs over us is what is in us. There is no escape and no answer.