White Suns – Psychic Drift (The Flenser Records)
Uncompromising New York trio White Suns travel down a more electronic, horrifying wormhole on their new LP Psychic Drift.
The phenomenon of music having cinematic empathy is by no means a new one. Brian Eno once famously said that he always constructed his pieces as if they were accompanied by motion picture, and it seems to have become a way to develop story-telling as something beyond sound and perhaps more relatable. If relativity is New York noisemongers White Suns’ end goal at all, then they’ve taken to mining the deepest, most disturbing and often most repressed corners of the human psyche, carrying despair through to its eventual breaking point. It’s a subject matter and constitution that has been conveyed in various styles of both cinema and music before, but Psychic Drift approaches it with an often confounding poetic intensity.
The shift in sonic form on Psychic Drift complements the sincere disparity of the narrative. Whereas before the trio’s weapon of choice was scratchy post-hardcore and guitar-based abuse, here they reject that for the more gutter level, nightmarish capacity of electronics. Head-splitting drum gambits are replaced more spaciously by samples and field recordings, and while the band’s unwillingness to compromise has always relied on a disregard for the conservative form, here its looser structure seems far more existential and apocalyptic.
The narrative itself unfolds like a distant relative of Slint’s Spiderland, a Heart of Darkness-esque ramble through unknown territory that prompts loss of identity, starvation and an eventual demise at the hands of a “predatory form.” Plot devices such as these would allow White Suns to be as destructive as they wish; but the new dynamic of using synths and horrific scree as the core components enables them ferocity coupled with atmosphere in a way that they hadn’t harnessed previously.
The more stripped back approach to rhythm means that completely thrilling moments come and go, but the fifteen minute opener ‘Korea’ is a brutish starting point. It’s as devastating as the band have ever sounded, every inch of the space used to sap any oxygen from the instruments’ surroundings in its near panic attack-inducing finale. ‘Pilgrim’ is more recognisable in its drone expansion, all low-end bubbling and percussive loops, while ‘A Year Without Summer’ is the musical equivalent of a black hole desperately trying to resist its decomposition as the fight becomes ever more futile, its denouement being the juxtaposition of faded birdsong and ghostly industrial clanks.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2009 film Valhalla Rising was a masterful exposure of colonial arrogance and subsequently destructive self-realisation, and in all its down-tuned nastiness Psychic Drift appropriates itself as a perfect bedfellow. As I said previously, existential crises are well-documented subject matter in all art forms, but on this LP White Suns have delivered their own disquieting scope in a new landscape with aplomb. It doesn’t necessarily make sense of these uncertain times, but it’s a valuable expression of them for sure.
Key Tracks: ‘Korea,’ ‘A Year Without Summer’
For Fans Of: Wolf Eyes, Whitehouse