Artificially Retarded Soul Care Operators
eel another layer of skin off the Great Onion of Deeply Held Musical Centrisms. I’ll see your Rockism and raise you a Pop Teleologism, whereby musical value is assumed to derive from artists’ intentions, purposes, ends, and other human-faced things that go bump-and-crunk in the night; and there is the stuff psi takes aim at. A shadowy Brooklyn noise trio whose membership consists of three hermetic improvisers masquerading as three hermetic noise musicians masquerading as three beer-swilling metal-stoner dudes, psi describe themselves as “evolving into nothing.” Rarely static, the music expands, contracts, breaks, oozes, but it does not develop towards an end—thankfully. Good noise, like good science, renders insensible the teleological values of intelligent design, and psi becomes what it is in punctuated fits and starts that pretend to nothing but what they are. They massage the ears with murmuring quizzical streams of ululatory sonic babble, crushing-to-painful timbral quilts of sounds, teasing references to brut-rock rhythm, and the occasional carelessly processed vocal fits resembling at turns both the extended vocalisms of Jaap Blonk and the early Wolf Eyes-Andrew W.K. collaborations. (Note to armchair pop scholars: please let the term “Pop Teleologism” begin and end its brief and hastily ennobled tenure in the overworlds of lazy, cocky music criticism within the pages of this review. Thank you.)
Artificially Retarded… is peppered with bits of flippant live banter mangled and presented as segue-ways; sheepish battle crying attempts to rescue frank engagement with semantically light, ‘purposeless’ sound, from the monkish trappings and quasi-mystical positioning of so many of their home-field peers. The frankly silly (tongue-in-cheek, it seems) ‘stewed in blood and piss…grrrrr’ image promoted by the packaging and PR attending this release is damned refreshing. With improvisers of this merit and with stylistic leanings towards small-case ascetism, one expects the dismal high road to be taken. One expects a stoic face given the trends—ostentation to saintly sang-froid heroism, unflinching attunement to the small things in the face of a noisy and uncaring world. This record should be taken no less seriously for its visceral attack on intelligent design and higher power. There is no point. It’s not a gift from god, but it tastes good. It feels weird but you don’t want to stop sucking. It’s sweet blood in your mouth after being hit with a shovel.
Beneath the “farewell to beauty” nihilist pose there is an artificially retarded dis-purpose in psi’s music. In spite of the band’s recorded attestations that they’re “gonna get killed for playing such ugly music” (perhaps ‘we wish people cared enough to get angry enough to kill us for making such ugly music’?), most of the recorded sounds here feel quite controlled, moody and contemplative (though never ‘polite’). Like Taku Sugimoto or Annette Krebs, Forsyth is one of few guitarists with something fresh to add to the mostly note-less, idiom-averse dialog championed by the post-Music Improvisation Company European improvisers’ set. The textures are pleasingly, fresh-vegetable crunchy, and lubed enough to slide through the tight spaces they paint themselves into; in short, quality listening music. But what makes this group (and the other highly recommended but unfortunately un-recorded Forsyth/Fennelly group, Phantom Limb & Bison) special is overall surface unity. From chirping oscillators sweating through the pores of dumbstruck guitars and petit mal percussion, one is hard-pressed to identify individual sound sources. In dirtier moods, the music moves through the sort of visceral, bludgeoning abstractions native to bands like Voice Crack or Mouthus, wherein forced audience confrontation with a reference-less human noise is often the only guiding principle. psi holds court in a universe deriving no purpose from design, no intrinsic finality, no future-directed development. This is open-ended music that in spite of its physically menacing pose is ultimately a light, hedonistic gift, and chief among the finest electro-acoustic releases of the year.
Reviewed by: William S. Fields
Reviewed on: 2005-08-03