Yowie Synchromysticism

[Skin Graft; 2017]

Styles: patterns, occult, delusion, groove, mathematics
Others: Portal, This Heat’s “Horizontal Hold,” Morton Feldman, The Locust, Hella, Battles, etc.

Yowie made their first impression on me when I was at a fairly curious, self-conscious teen age. I’d found a snippet of their debut album Cryptooology on a YouTuber’s math rock compilation video. Amidst the manufactured nostalgia, stoned philosophizing, awkward romanticism, flashy virtuosity, and fringe masculinity that one might expect — these features were apparently essential to archetypal math rock of that time — was a band energized by cartoonishly skewed and jaggedly aggressive electricity.

Alongside the several bands that I came to know and frequently indulge in (Maps & Atlases, Giraffes? Giraffes!, WITT, So Many Dynamos, Monster Machismo, We Versus The Shark), Cryptooology sat, inciting confusion and warranting, at most, the occasional test listen, as if it were only a matter of time before I fully enjoyed it for what it was. First my neurons must realign, I thought, then I will have the proper insight into Yowie’s unique and distant mastery.

But it didn’t come. Instead, Yowie remained largely unknowable, only eventually finding integration within a canon of oddballs. The names are all familiar; Ornette Coleman, James Chance, The Residents, Daniel Johnston, Albert Ayler, and Flipper were my introductions to the sort of resistance represented by broken, shaky, lopsided aesthetics. These artists’ unseemly sounds represented what I now recognize as a rejection of centralized and unilateral judgments of value. Such was once perhaps the unspoken modus operandi of the outsider jazz pioneers and the underbelly of early punk at its most radical. However, as we look at how the institutions and big players came to adopt and purify the free-jazz method and how MTV adapted to co-opt punk music via new wave (and later hardcore via mainstream skate-punk and pop-punk), it becomes quite clear that the social systems that maintain control over the loci of artistic merit are quite adaptable and manage to integrate those who sit outside. This is the story of artistic development, the tale of the risk-taker and the one who is ahead of their time. This could one day be the story of Yowie, but for now, the band (now a decade-and-a-half strong) is comfortably seated outside.

2004’s Cryptooology was both wild and refined. It delivered the primitive angular sketchbook violence that the Sasquatch brawl on its cover promised. It was dry, clean, and decisive enough to accomplish that promise and relieve pretense of anything more. 2012 saw Damning With Faint Praise, which was less convincing. DWFP was loose and exploratory, a steppingstone that felt, at the time, like an ill-conceived compromise to more palatable structures and forms. Its track titles suggest philosophies and in-jokes, boasting wit (“Slowly But Surly,” “Shriners Sure Do Cuss A Lot,” “Eternally Collapsing Object”). When compared to the decisive but questionable list of names that Cryptooology donned (“Trena,” “Tamika,” “Tara,” “Tehesha,” etc.) the pseudo-smarts sort of titles that obfuscate references and meaning were fairly run-of-the-mill. This was an effect of the progression of the sort of quirky ironic postmodern runoff that made its way into indie and pop in the aughts (Sufjan Stevens’s “A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way In Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis In the Great Godfrey Maze,” Fall Out Boy’s “I’ve Got a Dark Alley and a Bad Idea That Says You Should Shut Your Mouth (Summer Song),” Bomb the Music Industry!’s “Bomb the Music Industry! [and Action Action] [and Refused] [and Born Against] Are Fucking Dead,” or Panic! At the Disco’s “London Beckoned Songs About Money Written by Machines,” all released in 2005, one year after Yowie’s debut and seven years before their follow-up). My attention to the titles on Yowie’s 2012 release isn’t for the sake of accusatory nitpicking or trend-tracking (Damning With Faint Praise certainly has tamer titles than the ones mentioned above), but it’s worth noting because it so cleanly illustrates the sort of loss of identity for which the album suffered.

Now, however, the elements that Yowie shook loose in 2012 remain flexible, allowing a more elastic but refined identity.
Synchromysticism’s cover is boldly decorated by vaguely occultist imagery and symbolism. The towers and sharp diagonal tentacular vines nicely represent the rhythm and tone of the music to follow. Synchromysticism mutates Yowie’s characteristic freneticism into more groove-based compositions, challenging listener memory and cognition. As a press write-up concisely states, Synchromysticism utilizes drummer Defenestrator’s studies in clinical psychology to explore an “understanding of signal detection theory and delusional mood to convey complex phenomenological concepts in a highly visceral form.”

I’m generally skeptical of works that presuppose the ability of musical composition to translate and/or illustrate complex concepts, but in regards to Synchromysticism, it doesn’t seem all that unlikely that success was found on this front. The structures here are most easily heard as textural patterns rather than formal compositions. This falls in line with Morton Feldman’s focus on rug patterns (1981’s Patterns in a Chromatic Field) with a sound and motion similar to the beloved This Heat track “Horizontal Hold.” It seems apt for musicians interested in darkness, delusion, and dissonance to turn toward patterns that are non-recursive on a large scale. I think also of the constantly forward-churning motion of successful black metal (a facet of that music which was made most clear to me when explored by Australian metal band Portal on their 2013 release Vexovoid). Synchromysticism benefits from such focused intent, presenting itself as a marker of a band that, despite little output, has clearly mutated over the past 17 years. It is clear that a single Yowie set must require a serious time commitment (a fact that echoes the misfortune that This Heat never had anything close to a follow-up for “Horizontal Hold”), but it will be interesting if we should continue to hear developments on Synchromysticism’s promise.

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