To ponder the politics of loudness often means getting a headache, but not every headache is the same. Often associated with anger, protest, or catharsis, noise can also be a conduit for mischief, a site for childish irritation and delight. The albums reviewed below make noise for its own joyful sake.
Haru Nemuri: Lovetheism (TO3S)
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Haru Nemuri’s electronic rock confounds categories — simultaneously raw and detached, artificial and immediate, more openhearted than she first appears. On this album, the Japanese singer-songwriter further tightens her glitchy style.
Although critics most often place Haru Nemuri in the realm of experimental pop (alongside Grimes, say), I hear her as a sneak arena-rocker. Her basic strategy is to surround conventionally expressive rock anthems with abrasive electronic sound effects — synthesizer polish, echoey distortion chambers, and sometimes more overtly contrived disruptions, like her own voice sped up or played backwards; she often resolves the resulting tension with cleansing bursts of noise.
Possibly because they’re so unexpected in context, her riffs and power chords burn with fierce emotion. Whether she is expressing rage at the technological hellscape her music simulates or getting lost in it, the effect rouses; it’s like she’s fighting to remain whole even while being digitally edited and fractured. Her vocals, too, veering between talky detachment and a vengeful scream, suit her exhilarated exasperation.
This terse album lacks the sweeping fury of her breakthough, Harutosy1ura (2018), but it’s denser and more breathlessly paced. Every song explodes: especially “Riot,” whose guitar chords, shrieking sirens, and swirling keyboard dust entwine in beautifully dissonant harmony; and “Pink Unicorn,” whose blunt, pounding drums and guitar fuzzbombs disappear toward the end for a brief white noise interlude — before returning, louder and crunchier than ever, adding an extra squiggly synthesizer hook just to slam everything home.
To find rock expressionism in a context usually considered arch and postmodern is no surprise: irony deepens feeling. She’s invented a new mode of catharsis.
Machine Girl: U-Void Synthesizer (Machine Girl)
Machine Girl makes information overload music, cramming many harsh noises into tight, airless spaces. On this album, they achieve maximum compression.
As Machine Girl, producer Matt Stephenson and drummer Sean Kelly subsume all the loudest genres you can think of — punk, metal, industrial, techno, what have you — into a furious digital vacuum, a whirlwind of rage and menace. These tracks are so dense they’re hard to dissect; the knives and chains spin around so fast they leave you dizzy.
On “Scroll of Sorrow,” assorted robot voices have a precisely timed, back-and-forth conversation over spiraling keyboards, while “Splatter!” stacks on breakneck drums and crunchy synthesizers, achieving eerie harmonic crossplay as tunelets that may or may not be there echo throughout the din. Mostly, though, individual songs do not distinguish themselves, whizzing by in a speedy blur.
The usual strategy of industrial dance music is to conceal simple song structures beneath abrasive textures; after sufficient acclimation, the hooks materialize with clarity, and suddenly a structure whooshes into place. Machine Girl’s music works that way too, but there’s an extra deconstructive step: they pack in so many hooks you can’t possibly register them all, and so the album is plunged back into cacophony. The hooks are there if you want them, but they don’t come easy; the pleasure lies not just in extracting them, but in watching the maelstrom steal them back. The resulting wall of noise satisfies for its imposing totality — the sense that by immersing in this music, one could achieve a cathartic self-immolation and be born anew amid chaos.
Choked with sonic ideas, revealing a new explosion each time, this album is therefore endlessly entertaining. It roars and flattens you.
Amnesia Scanner: Tearless (Pan)
Amnesia Scanner makes “deconstructed club music,” chopping their synthesizers and kick drums into a million little shards. Scary and cerebral, the product of a hyperactive aural imagination, this album also conveys perverse joy.
Per current fashions in electronic music, the Berlin duo has invented a vaguely dystopian, apocalyptic backstory for their album: these songs ostensibly concern climate change and humanity’s impending extinction, although you’d never guess it from reading the few lyrics. I just hear an outrageous hookfest — packed with jitters, crashes, metallic scrapes, and squelchy globs, these are the loudest and showiest electronic farts since the glory days of dubstep, lent pathos by the pitch-corrected sprites who gasp and squeal alongside the whomping fireworks display.
Less immediately danceable than their debut, Another Life (2018), this album takes even greater delight in abrasive sensationalism, as when “AS Flat” filters percussive thwacks and creaky breathing through a wind tunnel before finally erupting in a burst of guitar shredding. On “AS Trouble,” the accumulation of tiny percussive pinpricks builds to an overwhelming uproar, while the synthesized, rapidly whirring jackhammer blasts on “AS Too Late” repeatedly interrupt the vocoded singer, who’s looped, isolated, and turned into an electronic facsimile of a crying baby.
The album’s doomy ambience contributes to a sense of 19th-century symphonic grandeur that is often undercut by the sheer silliness of their sound effects, as when the initially tuneful soprano on “AS Labyrinth” distorts into a series of hysterical bleeps. Thanks to the underlying dance structures, even the bloodcurdling wails are catchy.
Electronic maximalism often thuds, inflated by solemn ambition. By contrast, this album is witty and ridiculous — a kitsch triumph.
100 Gecs: 1000 Gecs and the Tree of Clues (Big Beat/Atlantic)
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Laura Les and Dylan Brady have invented a mischievous, fragmented style of experimental pop, lurching from one mashed-up influence to another with the delight of true music fans. Here, they get together with all their noise-pop friends to remix their songs, fragmenting them further still.
100 Gecs’ debut album, 1000 Gecs (2019), was a gloriously messy monstrosity. From their guitar noise and electronic drops to the lovelorn tweedle of their voices, they fashioned pop music from a dynamic impatience, as each song morphed perpetually into a new shape. Interpreted by critics as either a trenchant statement on media overload or as music intended to troll music writers, it was really a sweet, inventive portrayal of adolescent excitement and longing.
With this remix album, they temporarily sidestep the issue of how to follow an impossible act. Recruiting a large number of guests from similarly weird corners of the internet, it’s essentially hyperpop fanfiction, based on the thrill of hearing favorites collaborate (Charli XCX, Kero Kero Bonito, and Rico Nasty sing “Ringtone”!).
100 Gecs songs already sound like remixes — Les and Brady compose them by emailing tracks back and forth, adding new distortions and embellishments each time to tunes whose finished versions seem to double back and modify themselves — and these new versions just extend the same process. But where the official album created meaning from disjunction, these songs stop at disjunction; partially thanks to the variety of guests, whose ideas don’t always mesh, the remix album lacks overarching pop structure.
My favorite moments are Fall Out Boy’s guest appearance on “Hand Crushed By a Mallet (remix),” in which Patrick Stump foregrounds the song’s implicit emo grandiosity, and GFOTY & Count Baldor’s “Stupid Horse” rewrite, adding new, Dr. Seuss-like verses with new animals (“Stupid sheep, I just fell out of the Jeep,” “Stupid goat, I just fell out of the boat,” etc).
Elsewhere, A.G. Cook adds a patina of mawkish nostalgia to “Money Machine,” while Sarah Bonito’s verse on “Ringtone” belabors the contradiction between technology and intimacy wisely avoided by the original, reducing the song to condescending social commentary.
Spiraling ever further down their self-referential rabbit hole, they hit a wall. Hopefully, they will continue to recycle themselves with greater originality.