Sightings City of Straw

[Brah; 2010]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: rock, psychedelic
Others: Oneida, Wolf Eyes, Throbbing Gristle

Mark Morgan, Richard Hoffman, and Jon Lockie have produced a whole mess of brain-wrecking, mercilessly distorted horror over the course of the decade-plus they’ve been together. Albums like 2002’s Michigan Haters and Sightings, 2003’s Absolutes, and 2005’s End Times are first-rate scorchers to rival the scorchiest of them. But delving into their back catalogue over the past few weeks, I find their most impressive, most unsettling efforts to be those more relatively subdued. Sightings play like a rock band possessed, a traditional power trio of guitar, bass, and drums hijacked for some sinister, alien transmissive purpose — and it’s ridiculously exciting music when you can really make out just how their DNA has been rearranged. City of Straw is the first Sightings record since 2007’s Through the Panama, and it’s an awesome document of a band exercising its hard-earned, insular synergy with a sense of decision more threatening than the stickiest noise blast one could conjure.

On every track here, each of the individual players in Sightings is a force to be reckoned with. Morgan handles his tsunamic guitar squall with a surprising, painterly grace and an excellent sense of timing, while his vocals reel with a classic, drunken swagger that burns with malignancy. Hoffman is an athlete on the bass guitar, bouncing swiftly from pummeling, angular figures to slinking, emotive grooves. Lockie is tempestuous on both acoustic and electronic drums, capable of delivering mind-boggling patterns and showers of fills that are feats of precision and endurance.

Above all, however, Sightings are capable of conducting an energy that transcends their individual accomplishments. When they rock, on tracks like “Jabber Queens” and “Saccharine Traps,” they work up such careening momentum it might seem as though they were losing control if they weren’t able to stop on a dime, break down, and then explode again on a whim. On less raucous jams like “We All Amplify” and the fluid, ominous “Hush” — where the band stretch out and allow for a little more space to creep in — it’s easy to hear how attentive they are to each other. While Lockie often lays in the rhythmic backbone for the song, Morgan and Hoffman weave organically in and out of the pocket, the whole band playing around one another as much as they play together in the traditional sense. Yet while the compositional logic is often internal, it’s performed with enough direction and certainty that it never feels aimless or incoherent.

In interviews, Sightings have dodged the “meaningless ghettos” of ‘noise rock’ and ‘industrial,’ characterizing themselves simply as rock musicians. If Through the Panama hadn’t already, City of Straw makes it perfectly clear just why: Sightings don’t seem interested in limiting themselves to the tropes or pandering to the audiences of any one musical subculture. They may produce a pretty solid din, but clarity and relative quiet also look excellent on these guys, and the singular chemistry they’ve developed over their years of playing together is nearly peerless. It’s a very rare thing these days to hear a record that confounds clear comparison and toys so effectively with the boundaries of rock musicianship. City of Straw is such a record.

Links: Sightings - Brah

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