[25 January 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Heavy Winged conjure visions of massiveness. Imagine all the MASSIVE things you can: THE SUN, of course, and MOUNTAINS, and NORSE GODS, and DIVINE HAMMERS, and all that kind of stuff. From an instrumental noise-metal group, this is pretty much what you expect. Bands like Heavy Winged don’t often aim to evoke things like mice or fairies, not even the really mean and big kinds that wear boots. But these guys are impressive—they sound pretty massive even during their sparser, quieter moments, which occur intermittently across the 45 minutes and two songs that constitute Sunspotted.
20-minute songs are the norm for Heavy Winged, whose discography consists largely of improvised CD-Rs and LPs released through tiny labels. Recently, they’ve been using studios and overdubs more. Sure enough, Sunspotted often boasts two mightily rad guitar figures assaulting both your ears at once, with noise connoisseur Ryan Hebert laying down two-chord motifs over sheets of haze and squawl. If you do a guided meditation to this album under the persuasive influence of Yukon Jack—and you should, it’s got a flavor big as all outdoors—you’ll eventually find your mind wandering into expanses of desolate tundra, winds howling and locomotives running amok, door buzzers ringing insistently to no answer (that one doesn’t exactly fit, but it sounds freaky coming out of a guitar), and eventually you’ll come across THE PENDULUM SWING. That effect comes 16 minutes into “Breathe Life” (Heavy Winged usurp the divine!). It consists of Herbert scraping a tone cluster worthy of late downtown composer Morton Feldman, over and over, as though snuffing out existence itself.
Song two, “Vapor Trails” (Heavy Winged usurp the FAA, or at least Rush!), starts with noodling guitar-windchimes blowing in the breeze, then evolves into crackling electrical scritching. Drummer Jed Bindeman starts gettin’ antsy and everything escalates, the guitars threatening explosion ‘mid bassist Brady Sansone’s roiling clouds of doom and gathering sandstorms. (He sounds huge throughout.) After passing through various phases of instrumental war, the whole thing comes to a pastoral close with a darling little filigreed pattern like the end of some Strauss tone poem. Both songs change texture every five to ten minutes, so they’re more like two extended suites. This adds to the overall feeling of largeness; though the two songs initially seem monolithic, they’re stuffed with so many sounds that it takes a while to register them all. (For some reason my notes label one such sound “BIG OLD ELECTRICAL PLANT”, but that may just be the Yukon Jack talking.)
You can’t call ‘em “hooks”, but Sunspotted certainly has landmarks, memorable sonic areas that you can recognize and bask in with every listen. The guitar riffs tend to be simple, built on fourths; the bass is a monstrous looming beast; the drums rock. (At one point, Bindeman sounds like he’s smashing melons with a club.) This is accessible noise that delivers the goods. Four minutes into “Breathe Life”, the low end achieves a sound that resembles the moon bouncing off a tarpaulin made of whale skin. Before hearing this CD, I wasn’t even sure what a tarpaulin was! This shit will expand your mind.