Wolf Eyes

No Answer: Lower Floors

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Michigan noise gods Wolf Eyes aren't one of the first names in their field without good reason. Their development since the earliest rumblings in 1997 (and further back than that for those with the energy to dig into pre-Wolf Eyes projects) has yielded some of the most staggering and genre-defining sounds of noise and sound art's dense, largely obscured history. No Answer: Lower Floors is the latest chapter in the evolution of the band, and it's an important one. From the more absurdist rock-informed moments of their earliest experiments to the compositional bombast of 2003's Burned Mind to the seasick antisocial drudgery of their last proper album, 2009's Always Wrong, each step forward has been a heavy one, marked not just by large-scale releases, but by dozens of lesser cassette-only albums and a bevy of equally prolific side projects. No Answer: Lower Floors isn't just the refined culmination of all these satellite concerns, but in many ways the embodiment of all the different phases of Wolf Eyes leading up to it, and possibly their clearest statement ever. Longtime guitarist Mike Connelly left the band shortly before its recording, replaced by James Baljo, but both Connelly and his predecessor Aaron Dilloway add input to the album. Vocalist/electronics manipulator Nate Young is at the core of much of the album's six movements, spitting bilious multi-tracked vocals over the slow-burning sludge beat of minimal opener "Choking Flies" and drowning in the submerged tremble of sickly electronics on "Chattering Lead." Clearer articulations of different phases from Wolf Eyes' history show up throughout the album. The early experimentations with fragmented vocal samples and sound poetry that made up 2002's Slicer show up more emphatically on tracks like "No Answer," and the monotonous pounding rhythms and harsh noise viewed through a punk filter that characterized their most aggressive albums, Dread and Burned Mind, come through on tracks like "Born Liar" and the abrasive album closer, "Warning Sign." The album's 12-minute centerpiece, "Confessions of the Informer," is where things hit a stride. Subsonic drum pulses, dissonant guitar squall, and John Olson's homemade woodwinds combine into a minimal atmosphere so slight and foggy that the creeping paranoia and horror-movie anxiety it cultivates happen insidiously, knocking the listener over without volume or brute force, but with a powerfully subtle evil energy. While the stylistic shifts can be somewhat jarring, the jump cuts from subdued waves of depression to demonic blasts of noise are part of the greater arrangement and ultimately help define the songs as a full-album experience. With No Answer, the band rises to the standards in anti-music set by its own discography. Along with Hair Police's Mercurial Rites and Aaron Dilloway's Modern Jester (both offshoots of the Wolf Eyes camp), the album helps crystallize 2012-2013 as a stunning high point in the ever ugly, ever inspiring history of noise.

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