My inner masochist reared its shy head last night by way of Wolf Eyes.
Their latest Sub Pop 12-inch, "Stabbed in the Face," could not be more fittingly
titled. The introductory stomps, bleeps and whirls on Side 1 took all of two
seconds to pound deep into my temples, harder and harder, until the pain shifted
front and center, right between my eyes.
It was an audio nail-gun to my skull. I felt like throwing up.
Then came the vocals, an inexplicable full-on distorto-throat-fuck assault. The noise (or pain the
two are inseparable when it comes to Wolf Eyes) grew like some unstoppable monolith,
a razor-sharp spire slicing through the layers of conformity and passivity. I
kept staring at my living room floor, knowing that if I moved, the monolith might
chop my head in two, spewing my brains all over the wall. Was I scared, or just
Then the noise stopped. I briefly sighed relief the second before that monolith of destruction went in for the kill with more wails, bleeps and mechanical stomps. Just a brief pause, as if this sonic evil had taken a moment to consider how it was going to take me out.
And then it was over. I was still alive, but not emotionally unscathed.
Immediately, I turned over the record. Side 2 features the instrumental "Rat
Floods," which, in comparison to "Stabbed in the Face," is a less skull-crunching
experience, and yet is equally disturbing. Very few references exist for the
devastated landscape Wolf Eyes have created here. The vision in my head is of
a bleak world dominated by this monolith. If there are any humans left beside
yourself in the "Rat Floods" world, they are diseased and decaying, grasping
at your ankles, begging for food, help, human contact, some kind of salvation.
Wolf Eyes pile layers of nothing upon layers of nothing, and it's all you can
do to keep from screaming. But you can't scream. If you did, you'd attract the
looming, murderous presence that nearly destroyed you during "Stabbed in the
Face." The hollow echo of the production makes me think of the horrific future
world of H. G. Wells' "The Time Machine."
When it was all over, I played it again for the pleasure of the pain.
It's grim, it's unpleasant, it's Wolf Eyes, the heretofore sub-radar noise group that will release its full-length on Sub Pop later this year and will take its apeshit live act on the road this summer as part of Lollapalooza.
Comprising John Olson, Nate Young and Aaron Dilloway, Wolf Eyes are another of those bands you listen to, find out where they hail from, look at the U.S. map and go "Huh?"
Wolf Eyes are from Ann Arbor, Michigan, a university town best known in the rock
world as home to the MC5 in the late '60s. Wolf Eyes are part of a loose underground
rock scene that began in the late '90s. Ass-in-the-air groups like Kentucky's
Hair Police and Rhode Island's Lightning Bolt have been staking claims on huge
noise through freaked-out live shows all across the country.
And Wolf Eyes are the center of it all, scouring the land like a previously caged
rabid animal that should never have been set free. Their own live show is junkyard
insanity, with duct-taped noise boxes, reassembled guitars, a homemade scrap-metal
horn and guttural screams. It's the single most offensive noise Lollapalooza
has ever seen (besides, maybe, Courtney Love.)
My thoughts turn to the suburbanite who will patronize the festival in an attempt
to glimpse what's happening in the ultra-hip indie-rock world. Those suburban
kids will be there to see less-offensive, much-buzzed acts such as Modest Mouse,
the Flaming Lips, Morrissey and Le Tigre, who represent an escape from mundane
suburban existence. What they won't be prepared for is the terrifying electro-core
sound of Wolf Eyes.
Wolf Eyes will not win over an entire generation (if they ever make it onto national radio with their undiluted raw noise, it will be scientific proof of miracles). But without a doubt, at least a few kids will return home from Lollapalooza, trembling with delight over what they witnessed. They'll snatch up copies of the Sub Pop debut this fall, blast it to the chagrin of their parents, talk the band up in the school hallways and take the parents' car to the city when they hear Wolf Eyes are playing at some tiny club on a week night. All this will shape their teenage outlook and provide reassurance that their lives do not have to resemble that of their elders.
Isn't that what rock 'n' roll is about? Changing some teenager's life?
And the fact that Wolf Eyes are broadening their terror-scope with the help of
Sub Pop is no coincidence. The Northwest label changed millions of teenage lives
in the late '80s and early '90s with once-obscure groups such as Mudhoney and
Nirvana. And though Sub Pop have hardly slowed their output since those days
great records by such disparate acts as Iron & Wine, the Beachwood Sparks, David
Cross and The Shins), it can be argued that they've not released a record with
as much gut-thumping potential since Mudhoney's "Touch Me I'm Sick."
But that has changed with Wolf Eyes. Be scared. Be very scared.