Mouthus Saw A Halo

[Load; 2007]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: noise, psych-drone
Others: Burning Star Core, Double Leopards

The notion of the avant-garde is understood to have been a by-blow of typical Modernist gall: “Hey guys, the parade of progress is headed that way and, incidentally, I’m at the head.” This announcement was usually followed by a little song made of whoops, de-dees, and other inadvisable noises, all inspired by the joy of knowing that one is the most highly evolved member of the entire species. Beyond the fact that this whole approach to thinking rested too much weight upon a flimsy philosophical table-leg, it was a deeply annoying attitude that quite rightly made a lot of people want to hit them. It is very rarely polite to go around telling people that unless they’re into whatever cryptic thing you’re into, then they’re backwards, beneath you intellectually, and doomed to eventual ridicule -- and where that is regarded as polite behavior, it’s usually because there are avant-gardists hanging around. But I digress.

A less frequently discussed phenomenon than this one is the fact that despite the noisily-trumpeted death of Modernism and the supposed slaying of all of its ideals as they tried to flee, the area of the arts called the avant-garde has nevertheless done nothing but swell enormously. That’s because, as it turns out, discrediting the parade of progress didn’t put an end to parades in general; it just cleared the way for a lot of specialty parades. Everybody still moving became the conductor of an entirely separate one, whether it was headed toward the usual rose-tinted mirages, or to destinations full of alienation and all of that sort of thing, or just to this place downtown where you can buy these fish tacos and where, if you know how to order in Spanish, you can get the fish blackened on an actual wood fire and then ask to have the special chipotle sauce put on it instead of that tomato shit.

Brooklyn-based noise duo Mouthus are, broadly speaking, a fish-taco sort of band. Their approach is singular, extreme, and highly advanced in its own way. That approach -- burying something vaguely song-sounding under layers of screeching, humming, whirring, buzzing, howling or static -- continues throughout the album and creates the impression of picking up a radio broadcast just out of range and continually losing it. That is, of course, a towering critical cliché that is exhaustively applied to any kind of noisy, amorphous music, but it’s worth a mention here because it’s more difficult to carry out in practice than it sounds -- and Mouthus actually succeed. An artist intent on this aesthetic must continually create the impression of signal yet keep it tantalizingly out-of-reach and never allow it to cohere into actual songs with presence and immediacy.

Several permutations of this basic idea are explored on Saw A Halo. “Armies Between” and “The Driftless” bury strains of frenetic drumming under fuzzed-out sonic destruction. “Beaches Sleep Here” drops hints of an ominous folk song but ultimately conceals whatever it is behind a mélange of noises, including ring-modulated drones and what sounds like an ancient washing machine. “The Gift of Sighs” drifts the closest toward melodic lucidity, with tinny picking, sleigh bells, and woozy, phasered guitar; though, as with many of these pieces, its several components are all arrhythmic in relation to one another.

Despite its deliberate obtuseness, Saw A Halo achieves what avant-gardists only occasionally do: it fashions its own sense of purpose, a sense that the parade is definitely going somewhere, even though its followers may be few. However formless, songless and anti-melodic, there is a messily evocative quality to much of this music that makes it nonetheless possessed of its own semi-lucid appeal.

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