Whenever the issue of noise music is brought up in my most close-knit circles, it immediately becomes a defining tool. There may not be a genre as divisive as noise music has proven to be. It seems that everyone has a passionate opinion about it and that there’s virtually no room for indifference. Somewhat surprisingly, in my experience, its most ardent defenders (myself included) who have either done time playing punk houses basements in as many cities as possible or playing jazz halls and studying John Cage. Ocassionaly both. Its detractors tend to be either genre purists or the general public.
In any case, I firmly believe that as a genre it’s the one that imposes the least limitations and allows the most freedom for expression. Whenever I get a noise record to listen to at certain times it feels intensely voyeuristic. While listening to Puny, the latest release from Pumice, that feeling was sparked more than once. Thankfully, that feeling can also act as a clear-cut indicator that the person behind the noise is doing something remarkably right. While it’s true that anyone can make noise, only select few are extremely effective when experimenting with it. Pumice is one of those few.
Puny starts with the immediately jarring “Hey Crap Crab”, which features seriously distorted instruments and near-indecipherable lyrics. It’s a strange thing to listen to and increasingly difficult to dissect and make sense of. That’s part of everything, though. The chaos and the strangeness is the point. Everything barely holds together and teeters on the brink of complete destruction and only certain threads connect at certain points—but when they do, their surroundings become sensible. It’s a dangerous balancing act of appreciation and enjoyment, as is much of the best works of the genre.
“Stink Moon”, the subsequent track, is alternately damaged and beautiful. Pumice reveals that he’s not much of a lyricist but an extremely talented composer, especially when it comes to piano arrangements. While “Ready to Rot” isn’t as immediate or as enjoyable as either “Hey Crap Crab” or “Stink Moon”, it does have a few moments but is ultimately forgettable. Then a calm in the storm emerges with the devastatingly gorgeous organ piece “Trophy”. “Trophy” extends for over 12 minutes but is gripping throughout, coming off as a weird left-field companion to CFCF’s Exercises, all subdued melancholy.
“Coeliacs Bring a Plate” picks the tempo back up again and doesn’t hesitate into delving into weird territory, riddling itself with distorted vocals, spoken overdubs, persistent piano plinks, and upbeat incessant electric guitar riffing. It’s a very short piece and essentially acts as a necessary bridge between “Trophy” and the surprisingly accessible “Covered in Spiders”, another undeniable album highlight. “Covered in Spiders” is a rambling balkan-inflected folk song that gets wonderfully effective atmospheric additions as it progresses. “Hump Piss” is another surprise, a short acoustic track with some haunting vocal work buried underneath. It’s remarkably effective.
Puny comes to an unsurprisingly strange close with two of its most insane tracks, “Smell the Towel”, and “Cuachag Nan Craobh”. The former, almost entirely vocals and feedback, the latter, a nine minute ambient wash layered with Pumice’s various strange effects before breaking into a beautiful atmospheric piece. It’s indicative of how the record, and the genre as a whole, operates. One moment things are at their most confusing, then things turn bleak, then they’re resolved. That’s as life-like of a progression as one can hope for and it speaks volumes about noise music. While everything on Puny might not work, whether intentional or not, it has enough beautiful moments shining through to attract curious ears and any victory no matter how small it is, is still a victory.