Before declaring their previous mode of creation “completely, 100%” dead and rebranding their work under the dubious genre of “trip metal,” Detroit’s Wolf Eyes could easily have been seen as the ambassadors of noise to the wider world of indie rock. Emerging from the tape-trading scene in the Midwest in the late ’90s, the group was eventually signed to Sub Pop, where they released the two most harrowing albums ever to grace that label. But since 2011, Wolf Eyes has brought a greater level of restraint to their work, restricting their insane prolificacy to a relative handful of releases and imposing more conventional rhythmic structures on their compositions.

In 2013, No Answer: Lower Floors showcased the trio’s shift in aesthetic. Nate Young’s caustic corpse-gurgles of old were supplanted by an unnerving monotone, and the once anarchic explosions of electronic noise were reduced largely to a warning-growl rumble that wrapped itself around the songs’ rhythmic through-lines like a cloud of smog. Despite the apparent softening of the group’s approach, the album arrived as a skull full of maggots, an anxious ball of gnawing, writhing dread. In the absence of the sonic violence that characterized much of their earlier work, songs like “Choking Flies” and “Chattering Lead” delivered a slow-burning unease that sketched out the terrain of their subjects’ shattered psyches in a sickly pallet of glacial rot.

I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces advances its predecessor’s trajectory towards more rock-like structures. Several of the songs are built around honest-to-goodness riffs, and the best of them can convince you that this is a good thing. Lead single “Enemy Ladder” is a blistering slice of sloppy thrash punk, all thundering toms and chugging guitar. Young sneers his way through the partially decipherable lyrics, his voice occasionally obscured by multitracking that renders his syllables an incoherent multiple exposure. At just over three minutes, the song gets in and out before you even knew what hit you. But if “Enemy Ladder” represents the album’s most triumphant moment, “Twister Nightfall” would have to be its nadir. The song builds up to a generic groove and then kicks up its heels and hangs out there for the remainder of its five-and-a-half minute runtime, with just a light dusting of dissonance sprinkled atop it like powdered sugar on a pan of stale cookies. It comes off like less of a deconstruction of rock ‘n’ roll songwriting and more of a rock song that’s painfully underwritten. “Twister Nightfall” is the exact sound that noise-heads imagine when they’re using the phrase “trip metal” as a punchline.

The moodier tracks are a similarly mixed bag. Album opener “Catching the Rich Train” pushes the queasiness of No Answer into exhilarating new territory thanks to John Olson’s noirish sax winding its way through the tape damage and feedback. The overall effect suggests a yacht rock cassette left on a hot dashboard to melt. In fact, Olson’s contributions regularly elevate the album’s material, clinching his MVP status with the ghostly woodwind solo to the end of the album’s closing track, “Cynthia Vortex aka Trip Memory Illness.” Remaining tracks “T.O.D.D.” and “Asbestos Youth,” however, contribute to the general sense of lethargy that brings down the album’s middle passage.

In his now-infamous interview with the Miami New Times, Olson declared that Wolf Eyes’ new direction would be “more about mechanics rather than blasting off to the cosmos and hoping the audience is still with you.” It’s easy to respect that impulse—the movement towards discipline and intentionality. On I Am a Problem‘s more successful compositions, this focus manifests itself in a calculated atmosphere of disquiet. Unfortunately, when the end result is as inert as some of the album’s weaker tracks, it’s cold comfort to know we arrived there via carefully-wrought design and not random accident.

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