Aaron Dilloway The Gag File

[Dais; 2017]

Styles: muffled, mangled, marbled
Others: Jason Lescalleet, Dylan Nyoukis, John Wiese

The Gag File came out in late April, and I still don’t really have the words. It’s full of voices saying nothing, whose speech has been lost or taken, and mine becomes one of them. On “Ghost” and in the final seconds of “Shot Nerves,” it’s a malfunctioning robot; on “Karaoke With Cal” and “It’s Not Alright,” a cartoon Dracula. Someone breathes, grunts, and yells amid the noisy chatter and deteriorating rhythms that make up “Inhuman Form Reflected.” “No Eye Sockets” is just overheard party music and conversation. These musings belong not to a horror or fantasy world, but to the more horrific and fantastic surfaces of our own. Formerly a member of Wolf Eyes and known for his own history of bizarre sound experiments (I once bought a record with a “locked groove” he made), Aaron Dilloway puts his eclecticism on display with these tracks, united in their grainy tactility and unnerving sense of gasping and struggling for speech.

“Ghost,” “Born in a Maze,” and “Switch” are overdriven, phased-out crescendos, the disorientation that Dilloway offers in place of a reprieve from the unspeaking cacophony of voices that makes up the rest of the record. While these experiments have affiliations with harsh noise and trip metal, they can also be outwardly unpleasant to listen to. At its best, The Gag File is, like the last minute of “It’s Not Alright” and most of “Karaoke With Cal,” based on a sort of rhythm that shows itself in hobbling, unsure repetitions, less like that aforementioned machine that isn’t working properly than a cyclone of tension. But the loud variety of substances that marble on its surface is a strength, not a weakness, documenting a striking sensibility and a particular tone in a broad set of ways.

The title and cover art warned in their peculiar way that The Gag File — technically the highly prolific Dilloway’s first LP since 2012’s Modern Jester — would be arresting. “Gag” has a lot of definitions, some menacing and others innocuous, but all of them have to do with the suspension of the flow of air that facilitates breath. Where, in the words of Stefan Wharton, Dilloway’s previous solo record confounded mostly in being “pretty fucking violent,” this one, while perhaps equally flayed and sharpened on its surface, works in subtler ways, aiming in a garbling queasiness to set its listener off course and steal their words away from them. It may not all be pretty, but it’s really hard to describe, and in the right context, it can be outright upsetting. So I consider it a success.

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