Thursday, November 3, 2011

Aids Wolf - Ma vie banale avant-garde on Lovepump United Records

This double album, Ma vie banale avant-garde or My Boring Avant-Garde life, from Montreal's Aids Wolf on Lovepump United came out almost exactly a month ago now, and even working on listening to it everyday.... it's taken about this long for me to decode my way through it. I say 'working' on it because Aids Wolf isn't a passive experience, they've created a freeform sound that, absent of repetition or rhythm, at times is impossible for your brain to kind of separate into background noise, and I'm sure AW wants it that way. It completely demands your attention. I'm physically unable to construct sentences while listening to it. That's kind of a feat in itself, giving in to this complete audio hijacking, but then takes time to stop what you've been listening to to make a note and then hope that makes some kind of sense.
But not only is it dense in sound and working with completely unfamiliar song structures but it's done across TWO records, well over an hour, 28 tracks, of these experiments. Although to call them their work or categorize the band as 'experimental' does them something of a disservice, having gotten together almost ten years ago at this point and sounding like they have a well defined vocabulary they stick to.
I immediately thought of Cave Bears and their similarly dissociative and cathartic sound on their 7" from Feedingtube Records, but where Cave Bears almost threaten to fall apart in their raw, basement sound, truly channeling mind altering substances and confusion, Aids Wolf comes off as a formally trained orchestra...a well rehearsed disaster, carefully placing the charges, and watching that hotel of rock come crashing down.

The vocals from Chloe across the album are always distorted to a severe degree, like on "Nothing but a Tape Recorder" she's seems to be exploring the way her instrument is played, rhythm itself, maybe the whole western idea of rock... although that implies that Aids Wolf is favoring some part of the world over the other, which isn't the case when these roots are altogether alien. The human voice is going to be pushed in new ways without any sort of behind the scenes meaning...any lyric or story. On "What's an aphid" this vocalization improv takes cues from the guitar which seems to be approached and played in gestures, the notes themselves are secondary. The most important thing is this pounding rhythm, and the will to make a noise at all...that's ultimately what makes Aids Wolf interesting is in exploring this chaotic form of communication, what happens when you take away signifiers...what happens when the vocal sounds don't stand in for anything else, they are purely left to communicate exactly what you get.
When applied to something like, "London's not like home" for example, there's a clear sense of panic and unrest. Even stripped of words, this really can't be misinterpreted as anything else...any culture or people would get the message coming across this recording and in some cases turn right around. Along with a hard percussion, free from traditional rhythm this goes to a Hella kind of place and a lot of the time the two guitar parts being played are separated into the left and right channel, playing off each other, almost right along with what the other is playing, and that's where I get that sense of deliberate, disciplined rehearsal. The big picture isn't where you're going to find evidence of this masterplan.
This vocal as explored as pure noise is probably most clear cut on "Like PSHTS of Aerosol" where Chloe clearly mimics the guitar, or vice versa , and it gets insane to hear this scat done in the same tone and rhythm as that dual Beefheart guitar line.
"I've had such an acrid taste in my throat" is named after the hours of rehearsal, sounding like it's created from manipulated tapes of screaming, or bleating bursts of free-jazz sax, and then disappearing down into a low register croak. How her vocal ends up anything reminding you of a brass section is just a testament to the places they're willing to go. To make those connections in sound between an instrument like that and our own voice opens up all kinds of questions about what range, what the limits are to what we can come up with absent of an external instrument. The guitar riffs here also sound manipulated, the fast complex fingertaps, broken down by speeds, and adding that element of chance. Line up the samples, and the tape loops, let's see where we come out on the other end. In that way they get experimental, they have to leave room for the unexpected.
In that way Aids Wolf is about losing control, in the same way that if you hate David Lynch or Jodorowsky's...or hell, Matthew Barney's dreamlike, plotless films. When asked to give up everything you're taught about story structure, and think for yourself for an hour and half, it's scary. If you'd rather sitting passively while a writer and actors walks you through every twist and turn in the bank heist, then this isn't going to be your favorite album. You sign an agreement with Aids Wolf to enter this chaotic freeform audio experience that takes work, real effort to let go of everything you've ever heard before and give in to this experience. It's a fight.

After reading more about Aids Wolf, I also believe they live this style of music, they have tenants nailed to the church door about tones and isn't a choice based on anything but wanting to make exactly this. At the end of the day there are no compromises in what they're doing. These complicated seemingly random bursts are their received SETI signals, finally caught on this double album and ending up as a universal document of possibility.

Get this one on Lovepump United

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