Imagining Black Pus playing his records live brings to my mind Dick Van Dyke, hopping around a park entrance, kick drum strapped to his back. The analogy is limited, of course, because Brian Chippendale’s live show is closer to a fever dream than a fairy tale. As half of the magmatic, lo-fi duo Lightning Bolt and under his solo nom de whim, Black Pus, Chippendale sits behind a moderately-sized drum kit and ties a degraded fluorescent mask to his head. A contact microphone bulges over his mouth, so his convulsive playing looks like someone choking on a breathing apparatus. For tune, he sets off an oscillator hooked to the kick drum, triggering throbs with his right foot and warping them into melodious noise with a pedalboard under his left foot. Without the mask, he looks quite like Thrill Jockey label-mate and fellow Rhode Island School of Design alum David Byrne. But the mask obliterates all resemblance, be it physical, musical, temperamental, or spatial. He’s total chaos.
The 15-minute meltdown that takes up almost half of the whole split LP is, however sublime, no surprise. “Total Eclipse” is the Black Pus we know and love, drums so lo-fi they sound like extraterrestrial pulsations, indecipherable chanting, and noise teetering over the edge of melodicism. It’s Pus’s other offering, “Blood Will Run”, that shocks. It’s three minutes long and a fist to the jawbone. Chippendale sings as Michael Dunn, who two years ago blindly fired into a car full of unarmed black teenagers after a dispute over the volume of their music. Jordan Davis, 17, died from his wounds, then Dunn went to a hotel, ate pizza, and got off on a mistrial for first-degree murder. (He was found guilty of attempted murder because three other teens were in the car. None except Davis were injured.) Here are the lyrics to “Blood Will Run” in full, sans repetition and gibberish refrain:
Turn down the music
While I pull out my gun
If you don’t listen
Your blood will run
Turn down your opinion
While I pull out my gun
If you don’t obey me
Your blood will run
Blood will run
This song has to have the least drumming of any Chippendale recording ever. The snare cracks with the beat like relentless gunshots, accentuated and syncopated with the kick drum and twitchy cymbal work, but the fidelity blows out the sound. Two singers chant and, technically, harmonize. Then halfway through the song the oscillator begins to squeal, fluid in opposition to the percussive stomp as if the song itself were shot and bleeding. I mean to call this a great protest song keyed into the repeating, unresolved issue of the unpunished murder of black boys, and which tries to get at the troubling fact that Dunn didn’t even need to hide behind a badge. Playing racialized music constituted an offense that, according to a jury of his peers, Dunn may have been within his rights to react to with fatal violence. Chippendale responds with not just verbal criticism, but also a structural loudness that subtends the song’s existence as protected speech. No one gets kill for it. But listen: “Your blood will run” becomes, in refrain, the haunting universal “Blood will run”.
Flip the record:
Kind of like Slayer, kind of like Sabbath. Not exactly like either of them but potentially as interesting, though we’d need a lyric booklet to know for sure. As of last year’s Retrash, the Chicago-based trio Oozing Wound are strangers in a strange land. They now share Thrill Jockey’s roster with Liturgy, Matmos (and the Soft Pink Truth), the Skull Defekts, and Black Pus. Their music is something like thrash metal if you believe alt-weeklies, which often know things, and Wound’s singer is a screamer, but on this generic point I disagree: All together Wound are more Melvins than Slayer, and more Flipper than either. The resemblance is due to repetition, which defines their sound along with Zack Weil’s long feedback arias and Kyle Reynolds’s adrenal drumming. “Aging Punk” is their best work, a long feedback ‘n’ drums elaboration that thrills and grates like Swans at their most worldly, and “Ganja Gremlin”‘s deteriorating-sawtooth structure hypnotizes for five minutes. If only they inhabited the trippy wonderlands they visit. But the Wound is fresh, so it’s expected that on a split with a cult icon like Chippendale they would come off comparatively directionless, and their method of cutting down four hours of studio tape into three mid-length songs enunciates the gap. Oozing Wound are exciting, to be sure, but the sonic wackadoodles I like so much cut into the same vinyl as the Pus sonic wackadoodles I like more. I’m waiting for both bands’ next LPs.
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