Boomkat Product Review:
Ooof! Noise freaks yr gonna wanna tune into this frequency - a truly gruesome triple album set of some of Wolf Eyes' rarest, most dynamic material, recorded when they were a three-piece of Nate Young, John Olsen and Aaron Dilloway. Saturated, distorted, ferric chaos, filled with pulverized rhythms and unearthly ambience >> as good as it gets.
Starting in 2001, a few years before their slashed amp/broken tape machine grot would reach a wider audience, Michigan trio Wolf Eyes released a series of 20 cassettes on Olsen's American Tapes imprint, spartanly titled 'Droll'. It lasted until 2006, and is some of the most sought after gear the band ever put-out. The original tapes were duped in shockingly short runs (the third volume was a mere 13 copies) and the series was assumed to be lost for good until very recently. Now the first five albums have been remastered and assembled into 'Box of Drolls', a jetting, volcanic monument to the sheer power of the trio in their most brawny incarnation. If you've heard Wolf Eyes' better-known day zero plates like 'Dread' and 'slicer' you'll know broadly what to expect: blown-out electronics, fogged-out tapemusik and brutalist free noise. But little will prepare you for the subterranean miasma found here.
Just clap yr ears around 'Droll V1 Edit A2', exorcised from the first volume. Serrated and crushed within an inch of its life, its a diverging 12-minute masterclass that bolts squealing feedback to pneumatic, technoid beats and chattering synths, then dribbles into skittery, phantasmic free noise, with barely-audible, post-punk vocalization from Young and chugging white noise that builds into a dense wall of pulsating feedback. Then on the flip there's the epic 'Droll V1 Edit B', almost 40 minutes of crumbled electronics, machine hum and strangled voices that periodically descends into reflected, rhythmic mayhem. Wolf Eyes have always huffed their own creative gas, but it's never been more conspicuous than on this precocious fusion of ideas, influences and ambition. And while it's noisy - occasionally ear-splitting - this material is rarely unlistenable. At this stage in their development, Wolf Eyes were more interested in creating an atmosphere than a racket.
The main inspiration for 'Droll' was the Rhode Island-based Droll Yankees Inc, a record label established in the early 1960s that released bizarre curios like 'Swearing In The Bushes: A Shocking Record For Men' and 'The Frog Pond', a collection of amphibian sounds that could be filed alongside Charles M. Bogert's notorious 'Sounds of North American Frogs'. They don't attempt to re-make any of these oddities directly but transpose the energy into sounds that straddle the line between music and non-music, noise and environmental bluster. On 'Droll V3 Side A Collage', Young, Olsen and Dilloway unroll a blueprint for some of their best-known abstractions, burying an echoing kick drum in factory floor dirt and covering stuttering, wrought iron improvisations - that come off like an elevator falling to its doom - in wet concrète. Before it reaches a punky, metallic conclusion, the patchwork cuts into warbling, muted delay spirals, that create their own rhythm from pitched slapback, sounding simultaneously as vortex-like as Basic Channel and as nightmarish as Ramleh.
There are even a few moments of relative tranquility on here, like the purring 'Droll V3 Edit D', 15 minutes of charred ambience that's basically the Skaters re-dubbing Basinski's busted up 'Disintegration Loops' reels. Or 'Droll V5 Side A Edit', that places almost monastic vocal drones and celestial horn cries against well-sprung string tweaks and pruned, metallic percussion. It's in these moments that you realize the scope of the Wolf Eyes project - they've endured because they've always been pumped to use their fascinations as a bridge into the unknown. Never willing to simply mimic, they've managed to retain a healthy, self-effacing sense of humor, lampooning the experimental world as righteously as the mainstream. 'Droll' is both a perfect primer to their universe - one of the most necessary, flustering anthologies of 2023.