Level Live Wires
dd Nosdam, aka David Madson, is a slight spoof on Odd Nerdrum, a Norwegian artist who often depicts death in soft, sensual, and colorful lights. In The Kiss, he paints a couple in the act of an open-mouth embrace, but the subjects appear inhuman. The man, with his slithering spine, matted hair, and beastly face, looks like a reptilian Neanderthal. The woman, head shaved bare and breast visibly too low on her chest, is like a pornographic fetus. It might make you queasy, but the glow blanketing them makes it breathtaking.
This idea of rendering ugly images gorgeous is omnipresent on Level Live Wires an album that finds more in common with Kranky than it does with anticon, the label and collective to which Odd Nosdam belongs. Unlike label associate Subtle, Nosdam isn’t attempting to branch out of a genre by incorporating and distorting others, he’s trying to establish a musical experience that has precedents but few connections. “Fat Hooks” begins with splintered communication lines that transform into radiant reverb, which steadily become rose-hued layers. A neck-snapping beat pushes it upwards, soaring towards the sound of a jet engine, slowly combining with those tones. And without the slightest notice, the mix suddenly becomes an angelic choir, an outpour of love and sorrow that, as they raise in volume and impact with the beat, emerge as a swelling, crimson aorta.
Much of Level Live Wires recalls a tamer RJD2 producing the ambient parts of Cryptograms. Glowing tones reverberate off of hard-hitting drum beats. Peeling sheets of static smother crying voices. But these don’t sound like rips, they’re scores to movies where cars fly into burning buildings, choirs chant as babies die and are reborn again; sort of like Children of Men, except that none of the anticon members are as charismatic as Clive Owen.
I say that because “The Kill Tone Two,” which abruptly enters in the middle of the album, puzzlingly includes a spoken word vocal that offsets the twinkling harps, scratching, and entering/disappearing instruments. Hood’s Chris Adams states, “I never saw my parents try to make a thing like me in time on the bathroom mirror where I learned to accept my body,” followed by the line “Good luck is a dead duck.” Huh? It’s trite coffee-house nonsense like this that prevents Level Live Wires from being an album that stands apart from the fray. Because when you drop silly bits like that one, you give naysayers cause to decry your albums.
That vocal in “The Kill Tone Two” is unfortunate, because the rest of the album approaches some spectacular peaks. The aforementioned track’s sibling, “Kill Tone,” uses the same instrumental setup but with the idea of “Fat Hooks,” employing its same emotional depth. “Up in Flames,” simmering on a sliver of tape hiss, drops warped loops that skip and twitch until new voices and loops are introduced, and the result is phenomenal. Even the short interludes, like “We Dead,” with its cold, and yet vaguely sexy, computerized female vocal, are as sad and lusty as internet porn.
Recent anticon albums have all possessed a similar thread of imagery: one that represents an apocalypse that won’t be an aphotic horrorshow, but a sublime freeze frame in time, where the possibility of rebirth, or the inevitability of it, will outlast the darkness that comes first. The problem is that this is so popular among stoner intellectuals and high schoolers that it runs the danger of approaching immaturity. But anticon has displayed startling maturity of late, slowly becoming more accessible without sacrificing their jittery experimentation, and gaining a firmer grasp on melody and song structure. Level Live Wires joins these ranks by just barely reaching the tip of the mountain, one whose peak is covered with guts and vomit. Kind of pretty, isn’t it?