Misanthropic noise artist Boyd Rice began working with loop-based music under the moniker NON in a decidedly caustic context in the mid-'70s, pre-dating the invention of the sampler and decades before sample-heavy tracks would rise to popularity in electronic music, indie rock, and other more conventional pop circles. Though the notorious prankster and sometimes-priest of the Church of Satan stayed prolific in collaborations and under his own name, Back to Mono is the first proper NON material to be released since the largely ambient Children of the Black Sun in 2002. The album signifies a return to harsh noise sounds from Rice, who began performing with feedbacking oscillators but eventually found that a more subtle approach worked better for him in recording. The album is a varied collection of 11 pieces, including collaborations with Z'ev, production help from members of Cold Cave, and several tracks of digitally renewed archival performances from the late '70s. Rice's signature looping of short segments from '60s radio pop songs shows up on tracks like "Turn Me On, Dead Man," but degenerates quickly into pure noise on the title track, where the only "instruments" listed are bass and paint stripper. "Fire Shall Come" finds an industrial backdrop for an evil, delayed-vocal sermon, while '70s-sourced tracks "Watusi" and "Scream" rely on more rudimentary static loops, calling to mind the obliterated sonics of Japanese noise artists Massona and Merzbow. Though Rice is definitely from the old-school of noise-for-noise sake's sound artists, Back to Mono is not without nuance. "Obey Your Signal Only" is built around a lo-fidelity organ loop that comes in and out of being dissonantly layered on itself infinitely before an abrupt stop. The crumbling saturation of "Man Cannot Flatter Fate" is four minutes of unrelenting internal feedback, but its shades of noise are different from any other composition it stands beside. The pieces all take different routes to the same destination, and the varieties of noise highlight just how much is going on over the course of the album. The rug gets pulled out from under us completely as the album closes with a straightforward cover of the Normal's electro staple "Warm Leatherette." It's a faithful rendition of the original's cold car-crash feel and minimal pop instrumentation, and a definite 180 from the grating tones that fill the rest of the record. Those unfamiliar with or not fond of the lineage of harsh noise should avoid Back to Mono, but those with an ear for this kind of experimentation in sound and lifestyle will find a rainbow of damaged tones and hateful frequencies to enjoy here, as well as a few puzzling moments of clarity.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas