Undertow offers offbeat sound

Ben Olson, columnist

I was a mere nine years old when I discovered the world of music. I sat down every day at my computer and digested websites containing music reviews and jotted down ones that looked interesting or fit my taste. Most were acclaimed albums like Abbey Road or OK Computer, but a couple contained the strange tag of “noise.” I pulled up Youtube videos and sat in my chair shaking and clutching my ears.

Fast forward seven years. I sit down in my same chair and casually listen to Wolf Eyes’ latest LP, Undertow. I don’t squeal. I don’t squirm. In fact, some might say I was enjoying it. I close my eyes and let the drones encapsulate my head.

Noise isn’t a genre you listen to because you want to dance or sing. It’s raw emotion. There’s little to no melodic tones to it. Most of the time, it’s pure hatred. The vibrations that it gives off hurt your head.

Wolf Eyes have nearly perfected this in the past but after a significant drop-off in quality, this is their best album in ten years. You can feel the pureness of sound, which cannot be said for most albums. It takes thinking and isolation and may not be used as background music. I made this mistake listening to it the first time. This is a puzzle, which explains why I enjoy this so much.

There’s something so unnerving, yet charming about this album. The titular track opens with repeated patterns of buzzing synths and ambient soundscapes, setting a haunting mood for the rest of the 28 minutes. Nathan Young’s vocals slowly creep in while a distorted bassline fails to catch up.

“Texas” consists of sound collage and rickety tape loops. Built around pummeling doom guitars, it creates the official soundtrack to your worst nightmare. John Olson’s fourth-dimensional free jazz saxophone attempts to stand out before collapsing into industrial heaven. To compare this to another song is worthless. It’s so other-worldly, like metal scraping against your skull. It’s filthy. It’s menacing. It’s beautiful.

It seems that just when everything has been thrown in, a new idea emerges. On “Empty Island”, the lone outlier on the album, genres ranging from acid jazz to reggae dub can be discovered. Not to mention sweeping synths resembling a broken bagpipe. Definitely the most accessible out of the five, the song gives off an almost kick back and chill feel, showing great contrast between the previous songs. Guitarist Jim Baljo’s noodling is a highlight as the track feels like one big solo for him.

By the time you hit the final track, you’ll either be thinking “Man, I wish there was more” or, “Yes, it’s finally over,” but the aptly titled opus “Thirteen” takes up more than half of the tracklist. The real hero this time are the vocals. Young’s voice brings back an early 80’s Michael Gira style, sliced and chopped at seemingly random places.

“I count every deceit, as they repeat/like receipts of doom,” snarls Young with spoken word, while being disoriented and portraying an insane feeling as if your mind is being jumbled with the static and white noise. The vocals try to stay above the music but soon succumb to Baljo’s guitar and Olson’s sax, bleeding in with rise and fall of the music. Time slows down. If art is supposed to make you feel, then Undertow just tore up your skin.