The genre of noise rock is one that easily can go beyond the boundaries of typical music, which can make describing the sounds coming from your speakers difficult to decipher and criticize. Sometimes, it can be hard to discern whether what you are listening to is actual music or simply noise for the sake of being noise. Some shoegaze bands, for example, incorporate heavy amounts of distortion and garbled sounds to help build a wall of sound or swirling atmosphere. Other, more straight-up noise rockers simply drench their records in static to make a style all their own. Then, there are bands like Canada’s AIDS Wolf. Although they are not classically what you would dub noise rock, it’s almost impossible to not label them as such. Although they tend to be more like classic punk rockers just with more droning distortion and incoherent yelping, to call them “punk” just does not feel right. Also, it is not easy to ignore the aforementioned argument about whether this is music or simply repetitive sound pollution.
Cities of Glass is the quartet’s latest and its follow-up to 2006’s The Lovver’s LP. And like any good indie band, AIDS Wolf released plenty of split 7” EPs between their proper albums. So, in a way, you have to give props to them for constantly grinding and keeping their name out there. But it’s a shame to say that their name is marred by music that some critics have dismissed as pretentious or, as I would say, “weird for the sake of being weird.” While some acts can pull off the whole avant-garde, outside-the-box mentality, AIDS Wolf suffers both from sounding too much like their peers and simply being too wishy-washy. To reach an audience outside your core fanbase, which might just consist of people who knew you before your record deal, your music has to contain a certain special quality that draws in listeners. For example, even Lightning Bolt is able to build coherent tracks and melodies behind the fog of panicked drums and blurry guitar droning. But for AIDS Wolf, the emphasis seems more on simply hitting your ears with a barrage of whiny, off-kilter noise.
Critical debates aside, Cities of Glass’s 10 tracks consist primarily of near-two-minute bombast romps that sometimes leave you wondering what exactly you have just heard. To the group’s credit, the short track lengths are a wise choice, to say the least, since more than two minutes of this might just drive some people over the edge. And when AIDS Wolf does push it well over two minutes, like on “So Many Plastic Pearls”, the unbridled, nonstop rage of their music becomes tiresome. Clearly, the band knows that just as well as anyone, however, since shorter cuts like the title-track and “Gnarly Tooth” are easily the best. Both tracks are just as insane as the others, but there is some semblance of structure and intelligible music in there. The same goes for “Ch Ch Ch Chatter”, which is propelled by tornado-engulfed surf guitars, heavy metal noodling, and a steady drumbeat. These moments of near-brilliance are brought to a deafening halt by the seven other tracks that far outweigh their three superior siblings. “Down Holy Ground”, for example, has lead “singer” Chloe making bird sounds and eventually screaming over what plays like a bad acid trip. Equally painful is “MTI”, a droning, incoherent track almost saved by its erratic drums. But the mindlessly drifting guitar and dull bass playing kill it.
If you can get through and truly enjoy this record, more power to you. After a few spins, I had to call it quits unless I wanted to pull the rest of my hair out. As much as I love noise, especially when paired with an experimental attitude, Cities of Glass does little more than get under my skin. And this is coming from the same reviewer who gave GridLink’s latest effort, a trip through a blitzing grindcore battleground, an 8/10. Of course, fans of Lightning Bolt and others like Arab on Radar could very well eat this up. Or, they might shrug it off as feeble bullshit. You can never tell with those kids anymore.