Wolf Eyes

Burned Mind

(Sub Pop; 2004)

By Matt Stephens | 19 September 2007

I'll be honest: this review isn't going to be for the type that already own Merzbow's Merzbox or something from every underground Japanese label; it's not for the few that religiously attend Kevin Drumm performances early to get close to the speakers; it isn't for those that have already resigned themselves to the incredibly esoteric world of noise and its endless variants; and it definitely isn't for those that found a lot of genius in a record like the Liars' They Were Wrong So We Drowned (2004). Noise apologists will probably find a lot to love in Wolf Eyes' newest, Burned Mind, and more power to them; but seeing as how they take less than 1% of the population, why should I -- or anyone, for that matter -- pretend that hating a noise record is "not getting it?" I don't crave hammers to my face either, but I doubt anyone will argue that it's a matter of being below the experience.

So, OK, I don’t quite know how to approach reviewing an album like this. Perhaps it’s best to just go off the top of my head:

Razorlight is a really, really terrible group. I’m certainly not the first to say so, and I probably won’t be the last, but the sheer awfulness of Up All Night cannot be overstated. It’s cluttered, noisy, crude, deliriously unsubtle, hopelessly derivative, unlistenable dreck. It does indeed, as CMG editor Amir Karim Nezar pointed out in his review of their record, represent “nearly everything wrong with rock and roll today.” Yet while my contempt for Razorlight and their irksome nu-wave ilk is considerable, they’re all but gods when compared to the joyless sludge of ghoulishly awful noise fetishists Wolf Eyes, whose Sub Pop debut, Burned Mind, sets a new bar for self-consciously unlikeable indie rock. Harsh? Perhaps, but I already said this review wasn't for noise apologists.

It’s important to note that I use “noise” here, not “noise rock.” Despite an apparent camaraderie with Sonic Youth, Wolf Eyes have little or nothing to do with rock music in any conventional sense. The pieces here essentially revolve around grating, pulsating bass thumps surrounded by whatever random abrasive clutter the band decides to use to fill out the mix. After five or six listens, it’s still impossible for me to separate the songs from one another; the redundancy of the arrangements is unbelievable. Even the initial repulsion felt at the record’s sheer ugliness fades quickly -- by the time it hits the eight-minute title track, Burned Mind has become more tedious than anything else. It sounds as if it was made by people who have never heard anything other than Metal Machine Music (1975) in their lives; there is not a single likeable moment on this record, and it hardly seems accidental.

Maybe it’s my fault. Again, as I'm sure some of you may be yelling at your screen right now, maybe I shouldn’t be reviewing this at all. Maybe Burned Mind wasn’t made for people who list R.E.M. as their favourite band, or enjoy Valentine’s Day, or are awake during the daytime, or have never contracted Gonorrhea. If we're being completely honest, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to listen to Burned Mind in the first place, let alone ever choose to pick it up again thereafter. It’s the kind of record that makes even the most sophisticated and open-minded rock fan long for limp-wristed bullshit like Razorlight (or the Datsuns, or the Thrills, or fucking Harry Chapin). That, along with somehow managing to find their way on the same label as the the Shins and Postal Service, is Wolf Eyes' only real achievement here.