Angela Sawyer, owner of the incomparable Weirdo Records and someone who has been quoted as far and wide as Billboard Magazine in regards to noise music, once called Brooklyn band Sightings “the most dangerous band in America.” Obviously we have long overcome our bizarre American belief that violent music will bring on the end of the world, but if there’s one band that could have split the earth open and brought Satan out (riding a bubbling, spitting river of fire, of course), it would have been Sightings. Their music combines an all-out assault on the listener (something that feels a bit like foundering in a choppy, dark sea, which entails not just disorientation and terror at your sudden apparent smallness in the face of the huge ocean but also a kind of life-or-death exhilaration) with a really appealing lack of bells and whistles and an abundance of craft that only someone who has tried to make music like this could easily discern. Sightings, unlike most bands that thrive on extremes of volume and intensity, didn’t remake the same album over and over again, but instead expanded their sound in all sorts of unpredictable directions, making music that is both powerful and interesting. Fellow Brooklynites White Suns, a trio composed of Kevin Barry, Rick Visser, and Dana Matthiessen, remind me quite a bit of Sightings, and let me assure you that is a terrific thing.
White Suns certainly have the volatility of other bands that explore the spaces between rock and noise, combining, as Matthiessen told me, the volume and and speed of other heavy rock genres with a dissonance usually more associated with pure art noise. It’s not often I hear a band that actually induces a physical reaction, but here I find myself coiling forward in a springy mass of tension and bad posture, my leg jerking arhythmically. The music the trio makes is so loaded with anti-resolution that it takes a bodily response to dispose of all the tense energy it embeds in my body, especially when it’s played loud, and it should be played LOUD. White Suns, as brutal and blisteringly fiery as their name indicates, play music that has roots, in addition to Sightings, in bands like Hair Police and Japanese conceptual artist The Gerogerigegege who walk the line between straight up art noise and noisy psych rock. There seem to be a lot of astronomy-related names in this area of music (C. Spencer Yeh’s Burning Star Core, for example, or Visser’s solo project Open Star Cluster), perhaps the only way of conjuring up something large and powerful enough to reflect not just the music but the physical presence it seems to have in the room. When it stops, especially at a live show, you can feel the vacuum that it leaves in its absence before ambient sound gradually filters back into the room.
“Flying Dutchman,” the A-side, starts with a perfect example of the more aggressive side of White Suns, emitting a squall of feedback and then, after a drumstick count in, bursting into a powerful, propulsive storm of unrelenting, fractured guitars that feel like they’re tremolo picking right into your brain. The fast, punk-derived drums halt at three intervals to let a rising, five note melody come through before crashing back into time. The shouted vocals (also not without a debt to punk rock) ride the crest of the wave of guitar noise until 1:12, when the meter actually breaks down, and the song, without changing tonally, turns into a dirge-metal stagger that manages to be even heavier than the initial onslaught. This is where the guitars, which never let up until after that final, sudden acceleration, really feel as if they are smothering you, which evokes that combined terror/exhilaration I mentioned earlier.
They can clearly do the power-noise thing, yet White Suns aren’t a one note act, and they manage to keep a level of formal interest in their music that eludes a lot of acts who only want the visceral reaction and are content to pound into dust the one method they’ve discovered of evoking it. This is particularly evident on the B-side of their Ampeater single, the track “Growth,” which achieves its intensity through a more open sound, with the snare and bass drums sliding in and out of phase, growling electronics that sound like processed wind, and the right panned electric guitar reiterating some minor key clusters in a tone that almost sounds like it should be playing some jangly surf melodies. The way the drums slip in and out of a blastbeat for just a moment emphasizes the off-kilter methods of producing tension here. Whereas on “Flying Dutchman” the tension comes from straight up volume and speed, here it results from the asymmetry of each element of the song. We expect the drum pulse at the very least to stay constant, and when it slips out of sync with itself it is severely disorienting. There is a similar effect in the jangly guitar, which stays very close to that initial chord for almost the entire song, breaking out of repetition and into violent distortion only for very short bursts and only after the halfway point of the track. This delay gives us the feeling that something is coming, something enormous and terrifying, given the pounding footsteps of the drums, and thus the song is powerful in that it never explodes into catharsis. The Something never arrives, though, and this is the brilliance of the song. It’s far more unsettling than any cathartic climax when you hear the drum footsteps fall back into rim clicks that sound like nothing so much as the amphetamine-hurried ticking of an old alarm clock, and this compositional thinking is what sets the band apart from so many of their peers.
The diversity and fierce energy expressed in these two tracks alone make White Suns worthy of your ears, especially if they’ve been worn thin by anemic rock bands that get compared to the Arcade Fire. Allow yourself to be submerged in the sound of a band that actually might make you fear for your life (and enjoy every second of it).
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem057/01 Flying Dutchman.mp3