What constitutes chaos? Is it the disconnect of instruments, disharmony, or the disembowelment of pattern? This question would cease to exist if no wave in 1970s New York hadn't risen. Glenn Branca, Arto Lindsay, and Lydia Lunch evaded conventions, thus awakening an earshot that raised more hairs than English heavy metal did that same decade. And like metal, no wave's following prevails, although its audience may have waned with age. Have today's proponents of no wave (or noise for that matter) adopted the dissonance as a vernacular?
One person this query could be directed to is Bay Area no(w) wave savant Weasel Walter, who's been active in the circle for over 20 years now. In 1991 he founded and assigned himself drumming duties for the transient cast of the Flying Luttenbachers. Since then, he's performed in xbxrx and Lake of Dracula with the ex-U.S. Maple frontman and deity that is Al Johnson among many other outfits. Walter also has a great ear for production, separating dual-guitar bands across the left and right channels on their records. Above all else, he knows the style of music in which he plays better than anyone else and is known for giving lectures on it. What may read like Chinese to others Walter knows full-well and distributes to a less-fluent audience with his label ugEXPLODE and its catalog.
Amidst the label's array of experimentalists is Philadelphia quintet Normal Love, whose 2007 debut was an abstrusely systematic chamber skronk venture. In the years that followed the self-titled album, the band had undergone significant alterations to its membership. Bassist Evan Lipson and guitarist Alex Nagle performed on Satanized's sophomore album Technical Virginity, the latter leaving Normal Love alongside vocalist Melissa Martignoni and violinist Carlos Santiago. The band's long-awaited followup has been underway for a good while, after lineup changes, intensive rehearsing, and a Kickstarter fund, but Normal Love's ugEXPLODE enrollment has brought the label one of its most diverse releases.
Survival Tricks is a smattering of Normal Love's cited influences from no wave to industrial to musique concrète to extreme metal to contemporary composition. All of these styles form a fine alloy, a tapestry so tightly woven together that it can't be torn. The most immediate and bearing the closest semblance to verse-chorus-verse is "Lend Some Treats", which pounces onto an abusive meter with a panorama of choked violin strings and frenetic guitar harmonics. Newly enlisted vocalist and sampler Rachael Bell shouts at three-syllable intervals, and during the quasi-chorus wavers between two notes with the instruments suspended in a fog of open hi-hats. Normal Love's confounding expeditions transcend definition.
The arrangements sustain their puzzling evocation throughout Survival Tricks when apace with instances of beauty. Ben Greenberg-esque guitar delay clots together, introducing how "Cultural Uppercut" juts outward with buoyant violin chords and damaged electronics as Bell's prolonged cries are reduced to a climbing oscillation. Its ecstatic sense of harmony is spiritual, though the erratic orchestration suggests a tension that never quite unhinges itself until the brooding "I Heard You Could See Baltimore From There". Bell's inflection turns operatic, offering a resplendent strain that she abruptly guts for jarring chirps. Growling bass encircles the band's bleak dirge, diffusing as dissonant plucks and jagged notes enter the foreground.
Be it a negative-space metric onslaught ("Grimy Super Soaker"), guitar-scrape industrial ("Breathe Through Your Skin"), or myriad avant-garble ("A Throbbing Sphere"), Normal Love execute each with abiding tact and forethought. Survival Tricks's meticulous clamor is a trial to endure, but parsing through its many layers pertains to the joy of revisiting it. Chaos is its dialect, and though difficult to learn, it's worth comprehending just a few phrases.
[Normal Love Website]
[Buy Survival Tricks from ugEXPLODE/Public Eyesore]