Our Puzzling Encounters Considered
ost music makes obvious how one should receive it—dance, tap toes, space out, read lyrics, listen with a smile. Thus, Our Puzzling Encounters Considered is one of the most confounding fuck-you's a band has ever issued to listeners. Metal Blade is putting out the aptly-named record. But with virtually no genre references and an ethos so exotic it's practically Martian, Puzzling Encounters could have come out on Tzadik.
Psyopus is fast and disjointed, freakishly so in an era of "spazz." The Rochester, NY band makes Hella sound like Low. Atonal guitar lines spiral at warp speed, hurtling through uncountable time signatures and turn-on-a-dime changes. Drums keep step, adding insult to injury. A few precedents exist for this sound, though they're dissimilar. Behold…The Arctopus lacks vocals, Buckethead lacks songs, Ephel Duath is moodier, Cryptopsy is more metal, and with the Dillinger Escape Plan, one can tell where rock's boundaries begin to fray. Psyopus, however, has leapt into the unknown.
What distinguishes Psyopus from other spastic bands is its willingness to explore pure sound. The guitars hardly sound like such. Instead, they're more like sheets of sound, computers vomiting 0's and 1's; imagine the falling green code from The Matrix set to music. In "Scissor Fuck Paper Doll," a strange effect makes the guitar sound like the digital error of a miscoded MP3. Guitars here don't play "rhythm" or "lead." Though speedy lines abound, they're compositional elements, not vehicles for adulation. Midrange yells comprise the vocals, but they feel inhuman, mere ghosts in the machine. Songs practically give themselves whiplash slamming on the gas and brakes.
With so little to hold on to, the album's highlights are the exceptions to its rules. "Whore Meet Liar" bristles with bratty female vocals, like Juliana Hatfield airdropped into a gun battle. "Imogen's Puzzle Pt. 2" is one of the few tonal moments, a tapestry of clean tones via two-handed tapping. Its pleasantries, though, are skin-deep; the din of babies crying and adults screaming roils underneath, apropos of nothing. "Siobhan's Song," on the other hand, is disturbing because it isn't. Given the 26 minutes of punishment prior, its pretty, Windham Hill-esque clean tones feel wrong. When the hammer drops seven minutes later with the brutal "Happy Valentine's Day," it's almost a relief.
Such a hostile listening experience begs the question: why? The album's hidden final track provides a clue. It starts with a psychotic answering machine message, then hangs on the word "annoying" and loops it for a full 21 minutes. No changes, no Steve Reichian manipulation, only "annoying" for a very, very long time. It's actually masochistically fun to hear. Then all hell breaks loose. The band finally references genres, and does so by the bushel. Death metal, R&B, thrash, Primus-esque funk, fuzak, crickets chirping, roosters crowing, steel drum-tinged kitsch, and drunken ramblings spew forth in random, high-speed assemblage. It's like an entire Mr. Bungle album compressed into six minutes. The band's MySpace motto is, "We rock you almost as much as we annoy you!!" Mission doubly accomplished.