The sax, violence, and noise of Wolf Eyes
Anyone who's experienced the aural carnage spewed by Wolf Eyes can confirm the patience required to endure their shows.
The Michigan noise-ticians — comprising Nathan Young, John Olson, and newest member Mike Connelly — vigilantly carve a slow burner of nauseating sounds and mangled rhythms into a single, decaying pulse while a thundering reverberation slowly boosts the anticipation of a jam-packed throng.
The trio toy with duct-taped noisemaking appliances, sheet metal, and tapes. Though a Wolf Eyes' song substructure lacks any linear beat, a stray headbanger or two can be seen freaking out to the grumbling emanation of oscilutf8g fizzles, hisses, and wheezes. Spectators muffle their ears with their hands and contort their faces as a wall of scraping feedback mounts in tension.
Then with the blink of an eye, free terror and industrial bombast rain down on the crowd in fist-pumping torrents as the band members convulse and bang their bodies against their instruments. The pounding fuzz of detuned bass, prickly saxophone, and bottom-heavy drum machine hardens and shakes a club's foundation with paint-peeling tumult.
Young slobbers like a rabid animal and shouts into the microphone with throat-straining appeal. Connelly claws maniacally at his guitar while the sleeveless Olson slams his arms down on his electronic box or gong.
It's an adrenaline rush that flickers like a strobe bulb set on light speed. It's amplifier worship for flapping subwoofers, though some listeners aren't so receptive to the chaos. This is something Wolf Eyes have grown accustomed to after tours with ex-member Andrew W.K. and Sonic Youth — and welcome with open arms.
"You play your best when you're playing in front of people who do not want to hear you," says Olson from a tour stop in Birmingham, Ala. "You can't always play in front of the same people or your music will go nowhere."
Like such fellow noise polluters as Sightings, Wolf Eyes are no strangers to fabricating all sorts of ugly racket. Since the late ’90s, when Young hatched Wolf Eyes initially as a solo endeavor, until Olson and former member Aaron Dilloway climbed aboard, the group have endlessly documented their music on homemade CD-Rs and cassettes.
In a move that had critics and fans alike scratching their heads, the band signed with Sub Pop in 2004. Olson proclaims that the group's association with the onetime grunge record label, which now releases albums by the Postal Service and Hot Hot Heat, "started off as a total retarded joke." A friend who was working with Sub Pop at the time drunkenly suggested the band when the label asked him whom it should sign next.
"They said, 'Hey, that's not a bad idea,’” Olson recalls. "They flew out to see us at a gig, and we were in shock."
While only a few Wolf Eyes albums — namely those put out by Sub Pop — have seen the light of day in music stores, most of the band's hard-to-find recordings have been released on Olson's American Tapes label and Dilloway's Hanson Records. (In the past two years alone the band has also released Fuck Pete Larsen [Wabana], Black Vomit [Victo], Solo [Troubleman Unlimited], and Equinox [Troniks].) Olson reveals that the group has been criticized for putting out too much material, but fans are free to pick and choose.
"I think a lot of people's best work is the stuff not intended to be on the big releases," Olson explains. "For instance, Black Dice only put out big releases, and I think that's a shame because you miss out on the failures. Failures are just as interesting as the successes."
If that's the case, Wolf Eyes' new full-length, Human Animal (Sub Pop), would mingle perfectly among past releases. Though the disc isn't too far from the deathlike electronic dissonance that Wolf Eyes devised on their Sub Pop debut, Burned Mind (2004), Human Animal flows like two meaty chapters — making it seem like "more of a conversational piece," as Olson describes it.
The band's decision to substitute Hair Police's Connelly for the departed Dilloway does Wolf Eyes justice as well, giving them a seasoned feel. Past recordings such as Burned Mind tended to blow up and then taper off into omnidirectional soundscapes — Human Animal’s tracks are more reserved in mood and command. Though past albums such as Slicer (Hanson, 2002), with its crackling fissures, and Dread (Bulb, 2001), with its sonic assaults, are distinctive in their own right, the unpleasant soundscapes of Human Animal actually sound like real songs, a feat the band had yet to accomplish.
The album's first three numbers embody a creepy ambience that prepares the listener for the recording's interior turbulence. The pieces become more galvanic as the album chugs along, whether through popcorn-inflected drum frenzies ("Rusted Mange"), bestial snorts and drones ("Leper War"), or the band's punishing take of No Fucker's "Noise Not Music." "It doesn't sound much different from the original," says Olson with a laugh. "But we totally massacred the lyrics."
Given the grinding assault that the song exhibits on Human Animal, it'll be fun to hear it magnified, in addition to the rest of the album, live.
To Olson, the pieces are so simple that it's easy to flesh them out and switch up the tone — it just comes down to maintaining a catalytic framework from which to improvise. In that sense, he explains, "Wolf Eyes is not too far from a traditional jazz band." SFBG
Nov. 11, 9:30 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF