Boomkat Product Review:
Midwestern noise deities Wolf Eyes celebrate a half century of DIY activity with a surrealist, Fluxus-influenced fever dream chopped together from grotty tape fragments, busted synths and absurd vocalisations. It's their most crucial proper album in years.
Has it really been 25 years already? Pared down to a tight duo of founder Nate Young and his long-time collaborator John Olsen, Wolf Eyes could easily rest on their laurels, content in the knowledge that they've inspired countless basement-dwelling acolytes. But then they've never opted for the straightforward route, and 'Dreams in Splattered Lines' is the most surprising and satisfying full-length they've fashioned in ages, advancing plenty of the ideas coughed forth on January's ruffled set of collaborations 'Presents Difficult Messages'. This time around they take their cues from surrealism; in early 2022 the duo had been based mostly in New York City, working on a residency for the New York Public Library. But subject to COVID-19 restrictions they could only access the library for a few hours per day, giving them plenty of time to haunt the city's various museums. The MET's 'Surrealism Beyond Borders' display prompted them to consider the work of 1960s Chicago surrealists, who would routinely perform disorienting poetry alongside live musicians in an attempt to weaponise absurdity and humor.
Thinking about the relationship between sound collage and popular hits, they wanted to mesh the two worlds together, dissolving the borders between the music and its production process and bring the studio's physical environment into their sonic landscape. This technique is most stark on the tongue-in-cheek opening track 'Car Wash Two', where the duo begin with a field recording of a Short Hands (Young, Olson and Drainolith) track playing from a stereo in a noisy car wash. Embellishing with grubby oscillator blasts, they bottle the result and pipe it through their car stereo, driving us thru the car wash as the finishing touch. From here we're quickly run through Olsen and Young's spectrum of musical interests - there are no lengthy musings or dense sidelong sprawls here, just short sharp bursts (hit singles) of energy that distill their ideas down to two or three minutes.
'Radio Box' is a broken oscillator x horn jam that reminds us of the band's most vital short-run CDR material, and 'Plus Warning' fires us back in time to electronic music's fertile early period, with dissociated clangs cutting into unstable drones that get snuffed out by Young and Olsen's expertly tweaked fuzz. Young's vocals have never sounded more pointed, and he seems to take a healthy glug of NYC's Downtown brew, almost sneering as he delivers jagged phrases over raging pots-n-pans. This thing only intensifies on 'Exploding Time', where Young channels Suicide's Alan Vega, deadpanning across step-sequenced bleeps, void-bent sax and the remnants of '60s sci-fi trash. If you squint a little you can still just about make out the Wolf Eyes that delivered the abrasive and iconic 'Burned Mind' back in '05, they're just a little more locked into their lineage and willing to lean into their wildest inclinations.
'Dreams in Splattered Lines' is an album where a cursed snippet of corroded noise ('Pointerstare') can fall between luminous, acidic electronics ('The Museums We Carry') and glitched-out, near-silent tape hiss ('Comforts of the Mind'). Then, from the quiet, the toytown abstraction of 'In Society' squeaks into view like a trumpet poking from a nearby sewage grate, daring us to join the carnival below. As Olsen himself so succinctly puts it, Wolf Eyes is "a group that would rather invent genres than follow them." Here's to another 25 years lads.