The noise stalwarts Wolf Eyes have been churning out fierce auditory assaults for the last 20 years. Like Lightning Bolt and Black Dice, they’ve somehow made a centering move to the indie set. And it’s not necessarily because of any break in their caustic, dirge-like sound; it’s more through dint of hard work, focus, and an aesthetic whose core elements can appeal to tour mates as broad as Sonic Youth and Andrew W.K. This is a band that is in their imperial stage in a very specific lane. The competition is admittedly low, but Wolf Eyes have proven themselves to be a unique voice in the noise-rock landscape. A rare DIY fixture that is able to maintain this level of exposure while self-releasing all their music.

So, what would Wolf Eyes’ newest record Undertow do for a newcomer? Probably not too much. Expertly sequenced by putting its two bum tracks first, the album shifts from jazz-poet spoken-word sections to ambient passages to more full-out noise assaults that twist every previously-used element inside out. The title track opens the record and features a kitschy vocal that takes more away from the song than adds to it. There’s an instant dating process that happens when you first hear the song—the affectation of the voice immediately pulls us back to the No Wave years, but it does little to make its expression modern or interesting. As the song meanders along, there are some sharp-edged guitars added—a harbinger of things to come—and it breathes new life as “Undertow” ends. At that point, “Laughing Tides” plays as a brief interstitial passage, setting up for the unfolding that is to follow.

“Texas” and “Empty Island” are the first songs to convincingly induce a sense of doomy heaviness to Undertow. Both use space impeccably, with a squelching synth pulse followed by a brief breath and then a stinging guitar. There’s a jazzy approach to the tracks, where elements butt up against each other, play a brief counterpoint and then go off into their own directions. Moreover, Wolf Eyes start to imbue the tracks with a sense of additive stress, so the songs offer a kind of climactic payoff, presaging the final track, “Thirteen”, which, at 14 minutes in length, makes up about half of the record’s runtime.

“Thirteen” takes all the components in the previous four tracks and churns them through a new and particularly aggressive prism. It pulls the sounds away from a fugue-like meditative state into something that aims for cathartic release. The dreaded, dry vocals return again, but after the first verse they’re sampled and warped into the mix, treated as an ingredient and not a focal point. After building off the meandering flavor of the previous tracks, “Thirteen” kicks into high gear in its eighth minute and thus re-frames all that we’ve heard before it. It’s a masterful piece of noise music, and it stands head and shoulders above the rest, showing that the noise masters have the ability to hit a home run when they want to.

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