or his first full-length album on the “real” CD medium (after a string of limited cassettes and CD-Rs), Pedestrian Deposit has pulled out all the stops, unleashing a solid hour of chaotic noise that’s as textured and varied as it is exhaustingly harsh. Volatile is an album that begs to be listened to on headphones, where the true depth of its sound field becomes almost overpowering; there’s plenty of frantic panning and moments when different sounds are pouring out of each channel, and even when there isn’t the subtle layering of noises is much more nuanced on headphones. Despite the fiery intensity and near-constant wall-of-sound at work here, this album demands close listening to be appreciated. Because on the surface, it may sound like just another harsh noise release—all pedal effects and wailing untraceable blocks of crunchy static. But under scrutiny, it’s obvious that there is a wealth of detail splattered under that surface.
The sound palette on Volatile is remarkably varied, while staying squarely within the loose rules of harsh noise. This is something of a genre exercise, remarkably well executed and endlessly complex, while retaining close connections to its forebears and contemporaries. As such, the music is filled with screeching high-pitched feedback, gritty glitch explosions, scraping-metal electrified tones, and scattered moments of quiet and calm (like the dribbling water that opens the fourth track “Naomi (In and Out of Consciousness)”) to act as counterpoints to the harsher segments. Over the course of the first three tracks (which all hover in the 6-8 minute range), PD examines the possibilities of sonic destruction in many different ways, incorporating short hard bursts, elongated drones, speaker-shifting call-and-response sections, and a ton of effects slathered onto every single sound. These three pieces are dizzying in their intensity, isolating the listener in a sonic universe where you’re bombarded from all sides, grabbed by the raging sea and pushed under, drowned in sound.
But it’s only on the 15-minute “Naomi” that the album delivers its masterpiece. After starting with the sounds of water and other sampled recordings, all lightly processed and tweaked, PD introduces a warm droning organ that hums lightly behind the sparse clicks and scrapes. The piece remains minimal and fairly quiet throughout its length, transitioning into a throbbing organ drone towards the end. What’s stunning about this piece is largely due to context, as with the pair of field recordings that closed Prurient’s recent album Shipwrecker’s Diary. These textured and gentle rumblings have a transparently organic quality that casts a light on the rest of the album’s harsh and grainy noise. The presence of this unabashedly beautiful (even at times melodic) piece in the middle of such an ugly and uncompromising album is a true revelation, a contrast that works off of the energy of the tracks preceding and following it.
After “Naomi” fades into silence with a few last ringing tones, the 25-minute closer “Live 2001/12/17" returns to the harsh palette of the first few tracks, although more straightforwardly, since it presumably really is a live recording. This cut is good—even great—harsh noise. But taken in context, with the contrast of harsh/gorgeous on the first four tracks, this final endnote is something of a disappointment. As it is, only because the opening salvo is nearly flawless in its construction and execution, tacking on a lengthy (and minimally edited) live track seems like a superfluous addition to an otherwise fantastic disc.
Still, that’s a minor complaint, and Volatile remains a powerful and exciting release that’s continually playing off the listener’s expectations to deliver one of the most invigorating noise experiences possible. In a genre where it’s growing increasingly difficult to make unique or interesting statements, Pedestrian Deposit stands out from the pack.
Reviewed by: Ed Howard
Reviewed on: 2004-06-25