By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
"The underground does not exist." According to critic Byron Coley, that's how Spin defended the termination of its underground music column (and its writer) in the early '90s. In retrospect, of course, the magazine's judgment looks more than a little dunderheaded. Sure, grunge rock then obscured the airwaves, leaving little space for anything not clad in flannel. But an international army of out-rock musicians (like Japan's Boredoms and U.S. freaks Born Against) were fermented deep underneath, plotting musical arcs that would soon prove Spin's dictum to be as misguided as it sounds today.
But the source of Spin's confusion is perhaps understandable, especially now, with the artistically anemic Clear Channel monopolizing the popular consciousness. After all, the underground is hard to find amid the neon glare of the strip mall. Its various trajectories are transmitted not by mass communication but instead, like Pynchon's W.A.S.T.E. mail carriers, by signs and ciphers invisible to all but the most acutely focused. Those above ground might never even notice the subterranean signs of life on water-sodden flyers bearing strangely foreboding names: Hair Police, Glass Candy, Incapacitants. Perhaps that's how so many have missed the visceral nerve damage of Ann Arbor, Michigan's Wolf Eyes, the broken-electronics/horns/voice trio who are returning to the Twin Cities to destroy another out-of-the-way venue.
Explains, maybe, but doesn't forgive, since Wolf Eyes' home-spliced, beer-fueled skullfuckery is just about the most exciting thing to spring out of the experimental music community in god knows how long. Fusing the junkyard hotwiring pioneered by Throbbing Gristle with the terrifying reverberations of dub and glitch obsessions of laptop-tronics, Wolf Eyes' sound is at once uniquely their own and uniquely American. Seeing them onstage, their monstrous downbeat corroding under walls of distortion spewed from boxes of overdriven RadioShack gadgets, it's hard not to read Wolf Eyes as a febrile howl of the American industrial wasteland, stretching from backwater Brooklyn to the sprawl of downtown Oakland.
Of course, they'd probably disagree: I admit, I'm being too pseudo-poetical in my analysis, when Wolf Eyes admits no analysis, their frigid cacophony instead shaking from the gut. Certainly there's little poetry amid their forays into recorded sound, from the dyspeptic squalor of last year's Dread (Bulb) to the stress-test swagger of Dread Hills (Troubleman Unlimited) to the countless tape and CD-R emissions from Wolf Eyes' Aaron Dilloway's Hanson Records imprint. Thud, squeal, screech: It's all output, output, output, no emphasis on the finished product or the grand artistic statement. Indeed, the untrained ear would be hard-pressed to discern a difference between any of their records, since each flows with the unassailable internal logic of the philosophical tract, or the rantings of a barroom drunk.
That's not to say it's Wolf Eyes' fault, but rather an insight into our own limited relationship to recorded sound. Thinking of their records as an "each" is probably the fatal mistake. Like the obtuse vinyl issuances of Jandek, the mystery Texan who since 1978 has released 33 albums of monotonously detuned guitar, Wolf Eyes' records don't make sense when considered individually. Rather, the sea of tapes, records, and compact discs (at least 40 releases stretching back to 1997) form a network, a connect-the-dots puzzle wiring together the headbang of Dread's "Wretched Hog" to the surprisingly ambient set documented on their recent self-titled DVD-R. Progression isn't the priority; interest lies instead in constant exploration, wherever-the-fuck it ends up going. And it goes to some pretty fucked places, as those who've made it through the band's cassette retrospective Slicer (Hanson) can attest--if they still have their sanity, or their hearing, that is.
There's a still larger point here, because Wolf Eyes aren't just one of the most terrifying groups to stake a claim to the stage (seriously: After their last show my ribs hurt for days). More than that, Wolf Eyes are a microcosm of the communal nature of the (anti-)musical underground that makes the praxis so indigestible to the pages of Spin. Philosopher Gilles Deleuze imagined the rhizome, the non-hierarchical relationship between a set of interrelated points, as a model for a utopian society. In many ways the underground makes that theory practice. No band makes sense without any other. Wolf Eyes are no more than the aggregation of musical malpractice that dissects America and beyond, spewing forth a thousand like-minded bands intent on claiming their own piece of beautiful unholy noise.
I'm talking like a critic again: Forgive me. It's hard not to blather when your head is still reeling from seeing Wolf Eyes a month ago. You owe yourself the opportunity to see them, if even only once. And you owe Wolf Eyes enough to show up early for the storied surrealism of Caroliner Rainbow and to stay late for the inspired strangled guitar of Michael Yonkers. After all, they're just pieces of the same bewildering puzzle.