[23 January 2006]
Aids Wolf, the little over two-year-old Canadian band, has had plenty of press leading up to the release of their debut, The Lovvers LP; not all of it’s because of the second word in their name, and that they’re from Montreal. Not all of it’s because the record was co-recorded Arlen Thompson from Wolf Eyes; not all of it’s because they count as their friends members of Arcade Fire and Animal Collective. It’s true, Aids Wolf, judged purely as a band sans-story, do have something to offer. Unfortunately, all they give us on Lovvers is of a host of half-formulated themes, as if the band’s not sure quite what to do with them, how to make them complete songs.
Chloe Lum, Aids Wolf’s singer, is known in the band as ‘Special Deluxe’; there’s also ‘Hiroshima Thunder’, ‘Barbarian Destroyer’, and ‘Him, the Maji’. One of those three, I’m not sure which, is Yannick Desranleau, who together with Chloe are Seripop, a screen-print/rock poster design shop whose work, in Aids Wolf press, gets almost as much attention as the music. Why is that? Perhaps for many, the art is more interesting than the low-level spasms of songs that the band has given us on Lovvers.
Well, let’s consider this in a little bit more depth. We have these two cat-loving, vegan art school dropout-characters, apparently influenced by (among other things) subways and serial killers, who use the following technique to find inspiration for their chaotic artwork (from the Seripop website):
Chloe and Yannick have recently discovered a new technique for creative drawing. It involves listening to harsh noise to clear out their minds. They close their eyes and wait for images to appear on the insides of their eyelids, which they then draw.
So the noise is cathartic. It’s pretty clear that that’s what Aids wolf is offering the listener here, too, what with battling, needling guitars, time signatures butting against each other, and high, frantic repetitions of notes battering the listener’s eardrums. Hey, it works for them: they’ve made some pretty neat posters.
Trouble is, when you’ve got an exposition of this certain level of sophistication, you expect ideas, expressed and explored. Don’t get me wrong: Aids Wolf have some interesting musical ideas, definitely interesting aesthetic ideas, and a sense of the kind of artistic statement they’d like to make. Just, these eight songs don’t do that vision justice.
To start, apart from the final, 12-minute sprawler “Some Sexual Drawings”, no one song is longer than two and a half minutes. That’s a scant 13 minutes of music, split over seven songs: it’s hardly enough to state a theme, let alone explore in any depth a musical idea. It’s like the sheen of Deerhoof’s cute/freak-out power, with none of the depth. To add to the confusion, singer Special Deluxe’s voice is turned way down in the mix, so we can hardly make out the words. The de-emphasizing of the singer is a fine statement to make, artistically; just, I think it’s the wrong one here, since her voice adds a great deal of character to a group of songs that can otherwise seem directionless. Finally, the thematic elements here are actually quite simple, and follow a similar pattern: a short riff—a three-note scale, landing on the tonic in “Chinese Roulette”, or a major scale up, dawn in “Spit Tastes Like Metal”—accompanies Special Deluxe’s vocals early on; then a freak-out with jabbing, high guitars, which continues, often with vocals, to near the end of the composition.
Not trying to deny legitimacy here, and truth be told when a song like this works, it can work effectively: “We Multiply” is an album highlight, a compact, hard-hitting song with an angular, jumpy robot-guitar riff, Special Deluxe’s squealing vocals dropped feather-like over the top. “Panty Mind”, too, works well with a strong, stomping guitar hook and a breakdown with waves of distortion and washes of clanging cymbal sound.
For those who buy The Lovvers LP, there’s a little note scrawled in the fold-out CD sleeve, next to the naked picture of the band: it says “stay freeee dudes”. I suppose all this raw noise and groaning percussion is intended to set our minds ‘free’ through a cathartic cleansing of impurities opening up vast new artistic vistas. And I guess if I’m not feeling like that, if in fact, by listening to Lovvers I’ve gone and given myself a headache, then it’s more a reflection on me than on the band or their music. Even so, I think they’ve got a way to go before Aids Wolf can truly claim to have found a musical expression that is equal to their artistic one.