Prurient Frozen Niagara Falls

[Profound Lore; 2015]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: noise, metal, techno, ambient, spoken word, field recordings
Others: Silent Servant, Cobalt, Masonna, Ricardo Donoso

The most interesting cities in the world are the ones that become a product of their own diversity. As evolving entities, these cities encourage the integration of people from different parts of the world to relish even the starkest variations of cultural difference. When diversity is celebrated, the city has better chances of flourishing, particularly when cross-cultural bonds are forged spontaneously. This provides prospects that cater to a range of preferences and tastes, which build bridges in society, community, and art. Frozen Niagara Falls is an album about New York City. It’s an album about experiences, regrets, and opportunities — both of fantastical and factual nature — that allow Dominick Fernow to retrace the core aesthetics of his 20-year-plus musical history while emphasizing the links that connect them. The importance of living in, leaving, and returning to a city immersed in such diversity make these experiences what they are, for better or worse, and the interpretations of them here make for a truly masterful production.

Frozen Niagara Falls feels distinctly urban because of the way that each aesthetic connection is clarified. Throughout the entirety of its 90 minutes, this is made apparent by the interlinking of gentle string arrangements with wide-angle synths, viscous vocal renditions, and a crushing arsenal of noise instrumentation, both acoustic and electronic. The combined effect of these contrasts is astonishing, as it permits for an infinite number of access points into an intensely rich and personal reflection on lives lived and observed in New York. This is essential, because it adds to the dynamic of the album’s subject and how it’s approached through recollection and elucidation, whether addressing sex, religion, or suicide.

At the same time, the stark image of a Frozen Niagara Falls looms over each track. It suggests a devastating natural force in a state of paralysis, a depiction of torrential, kinetic energy coming to a standstill so that it can be recalled and meticulously investigated. It’s a frightening notion, because it implies a passionate heaviness that’s impossible to bear in its natural form, but that’s allowed to come under objective scrutiny through some unearthly phenomenon. Perhaps that derives from Fernow having traveled and relocated so frequently, or maybe that’s just externally imposed. But to the outsider, this album certainly feels like a defining statement, one that has considered each and every molecule that this abstract marvel might assume.

Upon returning to a city after a period of prolonged absence, it’s difficult not to reflect on personal situations in that place. Fernow spoke with Pitchfork recently about how Greenpoint had transformed since he first moved there. And it’s easy to relate: our perceptions are altered by the physical state of areas that we have strong emotional attachments to. In the case of Prurient, it’s inevitable that this is going to take on a particular form because of the circles Fernow walks in.

After over 15 years of releasing material as Prurient and ventures into experimental dance music as Vatican Shadow (not to mention Exploring Jezebel, Fernow’s implied involvement in Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement, and outings with JK Flesh, Cold Cave etc.), Frozen Niagara Falls feels like a reflection not only on past experience, but also on the styles of music that helped to create them. The album is dripping in homage to power electronics, harsh noise, and ambient synth music; it’s a combination of influences that have been explored to varying extents throughout his back catalogue, and it’s been done here to impeccable effect.

The resulting tracks make for a celebration of the most diverse city (the atmospheric synths on “Every Relationship Earthrise”) and a lamentation of its curse (the bludgeoning dirge of “Cocaine Daughter”). The album plays on the unknowable possibilities that one might encounter in a metropolis — it fucks with any expectations by combining unexpected instrumental techniques (“Wildflowers (Long Hair With Stocking Cap)”) with the crushing dominance that was ramified with harsh noise on And Still, Wanting. These subtle contrasts are brought to the fore from the opening track onward, where cool synths and building percussion allude to a precious state. It promises a delicate and homogenous sensation together with the rough and brittle grind that’s propelled by Fernow’s vocals. “Myth Of Building Bridges” is brilliant and unnerving in that it sets up a tumultuous journey along with the key ingredients that are set to make it sound so compelling.

But that first track is more than an introduction; it establishes the foundations for balancing beauty and horror in equal measure, often right next to each other. In a metropolitan context, that can be viewed as destruction and renovation, the external factors that shift individual perceptions and realities of a place; a frequented bar that’s now a canine pedicure center, a Lebanese fast food restaurant that’s been boarded up and spray painted with confrontational graffiti. Memories and histories are altered within the diversification of change, illustrating the transience of a space — except, in the case of Frozen Niagara Falls, they are analyzed and reprocessed for inspection, without the severe force of immediate consequence to skew their trajectory.

That balance is tilted in opposing ways across the album; “Christ Among The Broken Glass” is a 12-string guitar piece that’s hinged on a hushed layer of feedback and static, which folds just before the guitar is amplified. By the time a distant sound of flickering flame rises in the background, one becomes shrouded in the vivid scene of some derelict backstreet at night. It’s complemented with the sound of passing traffic, one of the most powerful field recordings on the album. Conversely, “Dragonflies To Sew You Up” is an industrial commotion built around Fernow’s black-metal vocals and minimal piano inflections that appear confounded by the otherwise intoxicating percussion and bass-heavy sequences. Both tracks demonstrate Fernow’s gift for broaching the dark and the light, the inconsolable and the optimistic, even though they are each executed by inverted techniques.

After the outpouring of noise-purist ire that followed Bermuda Drain, it’s also important to dwell on the moments that illustrate exactly why Fernow is still so well-revered in the noise scene. The wild flaying of acoustic mess on “Wildflowers” is perhaps the most intriguing instance, where the 30-second arrangement makes its mark by collapsing a series of acoustic abrasions inside fractions of echo and decay; it’s a fleeting instant alongside a collection of longer tracks, but it makes its presence felt by magnifying the diversity of Fernow’s methods. “A Sorrow With A Braid,” on the other hand, uses silence with high-frequency resonance and moments of quiet before the artist unleashes the most appalling effects on his voice to make it a genuinely terrifying sequence on the album.

Within this context, the flashes of meditation that emerge also make for frightening and suspense-riddled complications. They force you to fear what might be lurking around the corner and push the limits of what otherwise might be deemed a false sense of security. “Jester In Agony,” for instance, is a cold and desolate piece that’s scattered with metallic thudding. It comes wrapped in a sensation of impending doom that’s everything but predictable. The calm ambience accompanying Fernow’s deadpan echo on “Shoulders Of Summerstones” is then counterbalanced by the sound of metal on metal, while the contemplative synth arrangement once again harks to the overwhelming sprawl of a cityscape.

In spite of the varying styles that Fernow creates on this record, as a bystander you are constantly being reminded of the subject and the impact it has had on the artist. Regardless of the technique being used, you’re aware of the spaces and the atmospheres that Fernow is referencing. “You don’t want to hurt anyone — you don’t want to burden anyone — you just want to disappear,” he presses on “Greenpoint.” Frozen Niagara Falls allows for that to happen; it works as an entry point into one man’s journey within a city, presenting you with all the incomprehensible reasons for falling in love with a space and a surge of reasons for turning your back on it.

Links: Prurient - Profound Lore

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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