Folks are always surprised to hear this, considering my love for music and that I’ve made writing and producing stories about music my career. It’s hereditary, passed down from both sides, and the deficiency mostly affects my left ear — I’m always asking people to switch places on walks or at dining tables, in order to hear them better. A friend, whom I trust with my life, once sincerely asked, “Do you think your lack of hearing stunted your social growth?” and, in that moment, every awkward conversation, every crowded bar filled with friends, every anxiety-ridden moment of childhood shyness flashed in front of me. How could it not?
I think the way that I hear and understand music is the same way I navigate relationships; I have to listen deeper, weirder, harder. Sometimes I miss things: snippets of conversation, details that need to be filled in or reiterated, literal frequencies of sound. I never felt the need of a hearing aid, though not opposed to the necessity later in life, because I learned coping mechanisms (and have had the privilege of ENT visits since childhood)… I just hear the world differently, and any other way feels off.
“What band is the loudest you’ve ever seen in concert?” someone asked, as is the viral nature of Open-Ended, Low-Stakes Question Twitter. Common responses were My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr. and Melvins — I can vouch for those (with custom earplugs in tow), but could never justify blowing out my ears to MBV.
ISIS came to mind. I swear the Earth moved as the band played “So Did We” at the Drunken Unicorn in Atlanta during the Panopticon tour.
Sunn O))) was frequently mentioned, too. I have seen the ridiculously robed drone-doom band several times, in a number of configurations, across several cities on the Eastern seaboard. I prefer the live show to the studio albums — essentially, they are blown-out free-jazz gigs, as total modal drone devastation opens up to some of the most challenging improvisation one could experience. (Only Monoliths & Dimensions and Soused, the collab with Scott Walker, achieve that same level of thrilling musicianship for me.)
Ten years ago, Sunn O))) and Boris performed Altar in its entirety at ATP, when the festival was still held at the Kutsher’s resort in upstate New York. (Or, you know, when we still had live music.) Then and now, I still think the album’s wildly uneven — an hour-long tug-o-war between two titans of avant-doom, not to mention metal weirdo Joe Preston. But in that concert hall, with Randall Dunn at the helm of a custom sound system (“like driving a giant truck“), Altar became an extra-dimensional texture, a transcendent vibration. The fabric of my shirt literally rippled off my back as feedback coursed through my body — not a harsh blast, but a constant flow of energy. When Jesse Sykes came out to sing “The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep),” I wrote that “she was a vision wrapped in a hooded robe, vulnerably singing the chorus over divebombing Moogs.” Moved not only by the song but also the movement of air around me, I wept… at a Sunn O))) show.
Metal and drone taught me that music could be extra-sensory, and that, with Marshall stacks and mics calibrated just so, volume could make me feel the music I was missing. — Lars Gotrich
15 tracks. A shorty this week. Leads off with the siiiiickest scream I’ve heard to open a song in a long time: “(Quietly) Do the Right Thing” by hardcore nutzoids Soul Glo. War on Women’s “Wonderful Hell” balances screaming catharsis with melodic release. New York rapper ELUCID teams up with The Lasso for some hard, hooky funk. Emil Amos returns to his downer psych project Holy Sons. No Thank You’s got serious Pedro the Lion vibes and I’m, of course, all about it. Throwbacks to Blenderhead, Sense Field and William Parker’s Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra.