If you're wondering whether record labels still matter, consider the case of Wolf Eyes. Their last two widely distributed albums, 2004's Burned Mind and 2006's Human Animal, came out on Sub Pop and got lots of media attention, even landing the band on the cover of The Wire. Three years later, Wolf Eyes return with Always Wrong, a follow-up of sorts after reams of smaller-run releases. It came out on Hospital in May, and I can't find a single review beyond a few blog entries and tweets. Even The Wire hasn't mentioned it.
This probably doesn't matter much to John Olson, Nate Young, and Mike Connelly, and it shouldn't. The workman-like Michigan trio keeps plugging along, crafting massive textures, severe sonics, and daunting tension from all kinds of sources. They must be happier back among their brethren (Hospital is run by their comrade Dominick Fernow of Prurient) than on Sub Pop, but ultimately they must not care much about who pays attention. If they did, they'd smooth out their aggressive, uncompromising noise.
As Always Wrong shows, such change is not an option. Wolf Eyes long ago internalized buzzing static, piercing screams, and crashing cacophony-- basic elements as essential to the band's vocabulary as finger picking is to John Fahey's, or violin drone is to Tony Conrad's. In fact, the most impressive thing about the band at this point in their career is how instantly identifiable their unruly noise is. Reference points remain, such as the industrial bombast of Throbbing Gristle, the gothic dirge of Swans, and the sheer extremity of Whitehouse. But Wolf Eyes now speak their own language exclusively.
On Always Wrong, that language is more literal, at least verbally. Young's vocals are less buried in the mix than before, and his lyrics are not only discernible, they're even printed in the CD booklet. This gives the band the feel of a post-apocalyptic jazz trio, with Young playing snarling bandleader to Olson and Connelly's destructive anti-rhythm section. "All I want is what I see," he moans with a Johnny Rotten-like sneer on opener "Cellar", spitting into the surrounding noise until it rises up and drowns him. On "Living Stone", he slobbers like a stunned David Yow over a mesh of screech and rattle, while the subtly-titled "We All Hate You" is practically a voice-percussion duet between Young and a construction-site beat.
The increased clarity of Young's vocals accompanies a shift in the band's flow. Where Burned Mind and Human Animal relied on cycles of tension and release, alternating sparse lurch with slamming bombast, Always Wrong is more interested in constant build. You won't find many fist-pump moments here, but that doesn't mean the band has abandoned crescendos-- more that the album itself is one elongated climax.
Such descriptions may make the album seem musical, and in relative terms it is. But Wolf Eyes remain as confrontational and forbidding as ever. Take the title track, which bears the rhythmic remnants of a demolished hardcore jam, but to the uninitiated will sound more like a broken hearing test than a song. Yet for anyone attuned to the subtle differences between each overloaded whine, harrowing clang, and psychotic drone, Always Wrong offers a lot to lose your mind in. PITCHFORK