Haino’s ability to suss out the threads connects him to any of his chosen collaborators.
Keiji Haino, that great wandering ronin of Japan’s noise scene, can always be expected to turn up with a new collaboration every year or so, often pulling from a stable of collaborators attuned to his level of spiritual drone and free-jazz exploration. For his latest effort, however, he finds a new group of comrades: SUMAC, the super-sludge trio containing Aaron Turner (vocalist/guitarist for Isis), Brian Cook (bassist for Russian Circles) and Nick Yacyshyn (drummer for crust-punk Baptists). SUMAC’s two LPs have been fine displays of their makers’ strengths with post-metal sheets of noise, making them ideal partners for arguably the world’s greatest noise guitarist.
American Dollar Bill – Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous to Look At Face On opens with its title track, the sound of guitars tuning up over a flute uncertainly hovering over the building rumble below. Guitars sputter and hiss like scrambled transmissions as Yacyshyn lays down a rolling beat that sprints in place like a drag racer ostentatiously spinning its wheels at the starting line in anticipation of the start. Haino’s voice enters in a soft croon before everything lurches into the abyss, Haino screaming wildly as he and Turner send gales of feedback at each other, a buzzing conflagration given shape only by the pulsating stomp of Cook’s bass, which plays mongoose with the other guitars, darting and weaving through gaps in their feedback to map veins of structure in the noise. And all of this barely covers six minutes of the 20-minute opener, which also boasts some moments of Haino squealing like a chipmunk being tortured and an eventual breakdown of the guitars looping and slicing around the space as Cook and Yacyshyn gradually spiral downward. There’s nothing succinct about the track, but one does get from it a sense of how well Haino and SUMAC gel from the start, with Haino disrupting the band’s usual post-rock rise and fall as the trio likewise helps to give some measure of structure to Haino’s frantic din.
The four only deepen their interplay across the rest of the album. The two parts of “What Have I Done?,” spread out between the second and final track, is prime Haino. The first part is a volcanic eruption in which Haino lets rip on a trebly solo of squeals as Turner saws at his own strings, trudging through the cursed mud of Hades as Haino kicks up a choir of the damned overhead. Yacyshyn is a beast here, bashing cymbals with controlled chaos, his gradually coalesced military beat subtly steering the composition while giving every impression of being as lost in the terror as everyone else. When the second part resumes at the end, its space-rock zooms of faint squall are the most focused work on the entire album. The track could almost pass for prime, Lemmy-led Hawkwind, albeit if Hawkwind had Motörhead’s amplifier rig. Even when things implode, they do so with a discipline, gradually grinding down like wind sculpting a canyon.
If Haino largely dominates “What Have I Done?,” SUMAC take the reins for the album’s other two-parter, the incredibly named “I’m Over 137% A Love Junkie and Still It’s Not Enough.” Opening with a cool-down stretch of spaghetti western guitar gently strummed against a deep space of reverb, the track shows off the dynamic range of everyone, letting the negative space be filled with gently overlapping pulses of chords and rhythms. This is material that SUMAC has approached before, notably on “Clutch of Oblivion” from their last LP, What One Becomes, and it’s fascinating to see hear how Haino stretches at the band’s already loose borders when he starts screaming with strangled cries and produces feedback with his guitar that hangs in the air like a dense, toxic cloud. Underneath, Cook’s bass roils like magma just below the surface, vibrating and bubbling as if conjured by Haino’s primal yelps.
The second part of the track is the album’s highlight, a slice of barreling post-hardcore in which Cook sounds like he might snap every string on his bass from the sheer force of striking them and Haino makes every single note sound like a gash in the space-time fabric. Then the song ebbs for its last nine minutes, fading into twinkling fills of tones and brief swells of feedback that are more ethereal than overwhelming. The noise receded into the distance, the only consistent disruption is Haino’s shouted, hectic vocal, but even that is spaced out enough between barked proclamations as to be almost atmospheric. The arduously extended fade-out recalls the more outré gaps in Funkadelic’s early records, the much-needed moments of drifting in space after enduring an onslaught. Curiously, it may also be the best display of the synergy between Haino and SUMAC, privileging neither side but instead showing how well they mesh. Haino’s repeated collaborations with the likes of Oren Ambarchi and Jim O’Rourke may produce the deeper explorations of familiarity, but the spark that the legend finds with this group makes up for the record’s relatively straightforward abandon with a level of intuitive understanding that shows off the best of SUMAC’s budding post-metal ambition and Haino’s ability to suss out the threads that connect him and any of his chosen collaborators.